Boryana Ilieva is the creator of Floor Plan Croissant, where she paints intimate watercolor surveys of the residential spaces found in her favorite films. Coming from an architecture background, Boryana worked for years as an architect in her native Bulgaria before devoting herself fully to her artistic investigations of film architecture
We were thrilled to talk with Boryana about her practice, inspiration, and her unique perspective as an architect that meditates on the work of production designers.
Let's start with the basics; what's your background?
I used to be a practicing architect, sharing my own studio with a partner (arch. Panayot Savov) for ten years. We were called 11AM, and we designed and built small-scale family homes and interiors. I feel deep affection for each of our projects.
What inspired you to start Floor Plan Croissant? And how has it evolved since starting?
I wouldn't call it inspiration. It was a physical necessity to take a lot of emotional burden out of my body. Good cinema had accumulated in me for many years. So I began unloading using the architectural language. Which films inspired me to start? Those were Amour by Michael Haneke and Elena by Andrey Zvyagintsev. Then David Lynch's Twin Peaks continued the process, and here we are today, seven years later and 105 painted film spaces so far (I just counted them).
Floor Plan Croissant constantly evolves in unplanned directions. I wasn't expecting I'd make so many new friends, for example. People who love films and make films have become part of my life, and I am very fortunate for that.
How do you select films for a survey? What sort of elements inspires you to take on a space?
I look for the lived space. A room or a house resembling the structure of a dream, of the unconscious. I call this space a different character in the film. In particular, I am often enchanted by family rooms. Cinematic dramatic stairs also trigger me.
Take the living room in Drive My Car, for example. We only see it several times at the beginning of the film. Yet, the events there haunt me (and the protagonist) during all the two hours of remaining running time. That living room is constantly breathing.
You call your paintings "poetic surveys," can you talk to us a bit about what that means to you?
Let me quote Andrei Tarkovsky: "there is only one way of thinking in cinema—poetically".
Translating this in my architectural language, I try to see the doors and windows as mediators between two worlds, the fireplace—as an intimate area, the bathroom—as a place of desire, the dining table—as a focusing place, the staircase—as the rhythmical heartbeat of the house.
I love to think of the floor plan as a map of the character's routes. And the doors, the fireplace, the dining table are pins on that map.
What made you decide to use watercolor as a medium?
Watercolor acts on its own. I don't have to decide about the final look of the painting. The watercolor chooses in what shape to dry or which direction to flow. It is pleasant not to have complete control.
We're an organization of production designers so we love to nerd out on the details. Can you walk us through your creative process and how you approach painting on a technical level? Are you sketching bits of the floor plan as you watch the film?
The first time I watch a film, I don't do sketches, but I try to understand the anatomy of the film space. I start doing drawings on the second, third, fourth watch. It is the most fun part of the whole process. A real investigation, getting the pieces of the puzzle together.
From taking a (literal) birds-eye view of design and space, what have you learned about film design that you didn't previously pay any mind to?
I found out about the magic of editing or cheating as I often joke about it. The filmmakers can collect rooms from different apartments or sets and glue them in the film. I didn't know about that before. For example, Jep Gambardella's penthouse in The Great Beauty consists of a kitchen, living, staircase, and neighbor's balcony, which aren't part of the same structure in real life. The examples are endless. Unfortunately, I can't paint a logical floor plan in those cases.
Have you taken the jump into designing films yourself? If not, is this something you'd like to do?
I haven't. As a practicing architect for ten years, with built houses and apartment interiors behind my back, I prefer to avoid collisions with workers, carpentry, and everything else non-magical.
Has there been a film you've painted that's particularly challenged you creatively?
The house in I'm Thinking of Ending Things is surrounded by a snowy night, and at the same time, the night can be read as a dark matter of lost memories. I painted the house floor plan on thick cardboard and cut holes where the windows were. Then I positioned the house on top of another wider cardboard on which I painted the snowy black nothingness. Both cardboards aren't glued to each other, so the house freely floats in the dark matter. That was an adventurous project.
Is there any film you'd love to do but feels too daunting to approach?
The wooden house hugged among the ruins of The Abbey of Saint Galgano—the final scene in Tarkovsky's Nostalgia—I wish I could find a way to illustrate that from a bird's view. Another dream is to figure out an architectural method of painting the Three Colours trilogy of Krzysztof Kieslowski. And let me add a third film to the list: The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry often calls me, but I am still mortified by the idea.
What are some primary differences that you've noted between the fields of architecture and production design? Have you noticed any unexpected similarities?
In real-life architecture, the designer must think of water pipes, electric cables, heating systems, construction issues, so much invisible and annoying stuff which lacks in the film sets. The production designers work with the pure art of architecture. I envy them.
Has character-driven design for film influenced your work as an architect in any way?
Suppose someday I return to architecture in real life. In that case, I will be excited to start the conversation with clients like this: Imagine that you are the protagonist in a novel and that you will live in the protagonist's house from the novel.
And from that point on, we start designing their house.