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From the Shell Towards the Core: A Conversation About Film Houses

With their project Floor Plan Croissant, artist Boryana Ilieva explores the interior design and layouts of iconic film settings.
Savina Petkova
The Floor Plan Croissant painting "The Grand Central Terminal Staged" (2022) is featured in Issue 2 of Notebook magazine, in the piece "It's Grand... and it's Central!" The issue is currently available in select stores around the world.
Boryana Ilieva, aka Floor Plan Croissant.
It’s an indisputable truth that film sets are worlds of their own. Production and set design is no less than world-building, defining and fleshing out the spaces in which characters roam. Interiors are often created in accordance with the protagonist that inhabits them, an extension of their inner world as a home—think of the lush London townhouse in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread (2017) matching the orderly opulence of dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis). Often, people find themselves in hotel rooms or holiday rentals which are temporary homes to a searching soul, and it is precisely the pronounced character of these interiors as transient places that complements a character in their journey: the Greek villa in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter (2021) bears witness to the unraveling of Olivia Colman’s character in a way no person on the island does. A cinephile art project named Floor Plan Croissant was born of this love for film architecture and the storytelling of detailed interiors.
Boryana Ilieva, the artist behind Floor Plan Croissant, is a Bulgarian architect with a penchant for moving image picture magic. In 2014, she was inspired by the way Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa dissected lived cinematic spaces and as a result, she started interpreting cinematic languages through her own architectural perspectives. Her work is also, in a way, archeological—by extracting floor plans of rooms and houses in film, she not only captures an atmosphere and mood, which are often fleetingly bound to a film’s runtime, but also proposes, paradoxically, a layered reminiscence of events and characters by eliminating humans from the plane. In every watercolor painting, the artist manages to lock in the film’s plot as a well-kept secret, a delightful treat for the cinephile viewer to single out tiny details and find themselves momentarily transported back “inside” the film. That striking shade of emerald green that colors the sofa in Scenes from a Marriage (both the 1973 and the 2021 versions), or the bowls of untouched spaghetti Bolognese on the dinner table in Caché (2005)—telling or not, ordinary objects, walls, and corridors shimmer with memories that are no less material than the houses themselves.
A proud owner of two FPC prints myself, I have been waiting to have a more in-depth conversation with Boryana Ilieva for a while. A casual conversation earlier this year not only allowed a glimpse of her meticulous process, but also suggested she paints the colors from first-view memory—all this, coupled with her collaboration with the Notebook magazine, provided a good entry point in the film-architecture world of Floor Plan Croissant.

NOTEBOOK: With your architect background, do you sometimes find yourself taking mental walks on film sets while you’re watching a film? What are the things that attract you to a project?
BORYANA ILIEVA: I am attracted by the potential of a film interior, a potential which no one else but me sees. Then I begin to envision the horizontal or the vertical sectioning of space, whichever one will manifest it in the best possible way. 
NOTEBOOK: How do you go about imagining the space as whole, though—do you start from different angles, and then stitch them into continuity in your mind?
ILIEVA: I start from the shell towards the core. The outline dimensions come first. Sometimes, when the interior is a real house, I’ll be sure to find it on Google Maps and take measurements. Then it is the windows' turn: once I have their count, I can start dividing the space inside into rooms. Often, dark internal corridors are my own private hell.
NOTEBOOK: What’s your favorite part of your work process?
ILIEVA: The beginning of a project—the white sheet of paper, pencil in my hand, running the film repeatedly in my attempt to sketch the floor plan. Because this is the part where the discoveries pop up—aha! The parents’ apartment in The Dreamers (2003) doesn’t have a bedroom at all, or this could be a possible room for Woodcock’s sister Cyril (played by Leslie Manville), if she lived in her brother’s house in Phantom Thread
NOTEBOOK: Do you sketch throughout, or is it more in your head?
ILIEVA: After the first watch, everything is only in my head, especially the following night. I roll all the rooms in my mind before falling asleep, and I get to work the next day. 
NOTEBOOK: Fascinating memory palace you have! Is there a set vis-a-vis reality surprise you’ve encountered that you’d want to share?
ILIEVA: Recently, I realized that the apartment of Bardot and Piccoli's characters in Godard's Contempt (1963) wasn't a built set. I always thought it was, but on the third watch, it hit me: so I started looking for the actual location; indeed, a friend even gave me the exact address in Rome (a special friend, the Italian author Tiziana Lo Porto). I immediately found the penthouse on Google Maps, and the satellite photo showed me a roof in ruins. I was in actual pain, it hurt to see cinema’s most beautiful apartment looking so desolate and abandoned. But I keep checking from time to time, and last week I found the satellite photo updated, and oh Lord, it looks good now—neat, green, and taken care of. Obviously, it had been in reconstruction. Godard's legacy is preserved! 
NOTEBOOK: Speaking of a helping hand… You’ve mentioned you sometimes get to work with production designers, what’s that process like?
ILIEVA: PDs have always been lovely! Immensely supportive and happy about the existence of the FPC project. But I try and keep them only as a last resort. First, I try to figure out the floor plan by myself with repetitive viewings of a film. Should I reach the dead end, I’ll call for help. The last time this happened was with a painting of The Matrix (1999), I had trouble with Neo/Thomas A. Anderson’s room—I couldn't precisely figure out the kitchen corner. Thankfully, I received colossal help (photos of the set) from the production designer and art director Hugh Bateup. The set decorator of The Matrix, Lisa Brennan, connected us. In fact, a package of copies of the finished painting I sent them just arrived in Australia: they are for all the crew members who helped with the art piece because it wasn't only Hugh. This is a story with a truly happy ending.
NOTEBOOK: What was it about the kitchen that you were missing?
ILIEVA: There was a sink in the kitchen corner which I didn't know how to illustrate before I received the photos from the set. Should it be full of dirty dishes? Should it be clean and empty? Each of those options would add to Neo's character, how he lives, and what his daily habits are. When I am perplexed like this, I ask the community.
NOTEBOOK: They came to the rescue?
ILIEVA: I raised the question on Patreon, and the correct answer came—Neo's kitchen only has dirty cups of coffee, he rarely washes them, and his food is in cardboard boxes; he doesn't cook. And indeed, when I got the set photos, the sink was full of those. This is the best thing about my project—the community participates. We are evolving a painting together. And this is a process that mainly takes place on Patreon, but Instagram and Twitter also help.
NOTEBOOK: What are other peculiar details you’ve been challenged by, working across other films?
ILIEVA: Does William Tell in The Card Counter wrap hotel rooms like the artist Christo did? Does the photograph above the fireplace in Villanelle's bedroom (Killing Eve) reveal how the story will end? Where is the door to the secret pigeon attic of Elio and Oliver in Call Me by Your Name (2017)? Again, Neo in The Matrix, how come he doesn't have a toilet…?
NOTEBOOK: What is it about watercolors that makes them most suitable for your work? The the hand-made touch can be seen as a reaction to the hyper-realism of cinema as an artform.
ILIEVA: Watercolor can get wild. You pour large amounts, and it dries in unpredictable shapes and colors—I love not being in full control. Watercolor always surprises me; it feels as if I am not alone.
NOTEBOOK: Judging by the videos you post on Instagram, you start with the colors, and then finesse the details and contours on top of its unpredictability, is that correct? 
ILIEVA: Indeed, I get obsessed sometimes and embroider the details, but other times I prefer to work with splashes and not many contours. At the moment, I am experimenting with Alice and Jack's house in Don't Worry Darling (2022) and I will try to give it that 60s look by only painting color spots, no outlines. I tried it once with the 1960s London house in Joanna Hogg's Exhibition (2013), the one the protagonists struggled to leave so much that they had to make it into a cake and eat it.
NOTEBOOK: How much reference do you need for the colors of an interior? I remember you telling me you don’t need much.
ILIEVA: The palette of the next watercolor crystalizes in my head while I watch the film. Maybe this is so because the directors convey the colors to us definitively. Antonioni used to paint streets and parks to achieve the exact nuance of the green or the gray. When I was drawing the photographic studio in Blow-Up (1966), I kept asking myself whether Antonioni would appreciate this shade of brown… I believe the white in his films has a drop of blue, while the white in Godard's color films, for example, is warmer. Once you understand the white color for a director, you've almost cracked the code of his palette.  
NOTEBOOK: What about the light, how do you make the call whether you want to paint a well-lit interior with its furniture casting long shadows (like in the Blow Up studio)or one seen at nighttime (I’m Thinking of Ending Things)? Or where would the sun be, assuming there are windows… and of course, artificial lights!
ILIEVA: In my paintings, I always imagine the film interior out of the film context. I picture it as an architectural model built with a white foam board and placed on a white horizontal plane lit by the sun.
NOTEBOOK: How about the sun affecting the colors?
ILIEVA: The sun burns them. They become pale or disappear entirely.
NOTEBOOK: I’m curious to know more about a less traditional work you’ve just finished, a painting for the new edition of Notebook. What was the process behind it, how did you know where to begin and where to end? 
ILIEVA: I’d describe the process as a joyful adventure. When we first started talking about it, we decided it should represent the world opening up again. So, naturally, it had to be a filmed building which would be somewhat of an emblem of traveling. Grand Central Terminal was the obvious answer because so many famous movie scenes were shot at that main concourse. And there I was, thinking day and night about Grand Central sitting all the way over there, in New York. The iconic interior of the building has three recognizable features which stood out to me: the ceiling, the thousands of ant-like people flooding the concourse, and the magnificent sunlight coming from the windows. Unfortunately, the bird's-eye view, which is my way of illustrating, meant losing the ceiling in the painting, so I had to exaggerate the other two symbols—the people and sunlight. That’s where I began: back in my Sofia studio, I started with initial sketches. Later, we discussed particular details for the illustration, for example, which windows we want the light to come from, the shadows of the crowds to replace the shadows of the window's grid, whether or not to include the train tracks. I’m thrilled how the painting turned out because I was given absolute freedom!


InterviewsFloor Plan CroissantIllustrations
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