So many of my life decisions have been based on spaces I like to spend time in. In high school, I was drawn to theatre because the drama room was lit with incandescent bulbs that hung from the ceiling – it was romantic as hell. I worked as a tour guide at The Sharon Temple because on quiet days I could practice my violin in the acoustically perfect, three-story architectural gem or sit on the lawn and marvel at its simple beauty. In my twenties I was a daytime hostess for a restaurant housed in an early 19th-century whisky distillery. The job was mundane (my only responsibilities were to answer the phone and take reservations while the restuarant was closed), but I worked there for quite a while simply because I loved that old building.
I can remember when my love affair with handsome spaces began: I was six and took a field trip to Toronto for a dance class. The dance class was in a renovated loft space that boasted floor to ceiling windows with iron muntins, beat-up wood floors and beams that separated the space into contained units. I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up but I decided then and there, I want to spend my life in spaces like this.
There are many different elements that can be combined to make a space worth spending time in. Lighting, floorplan, architectural details, the energy and flow, how space is defined and contained. But it all comes down to mise-en-scène. Borrowed from film studies, mise-en-scène means “placing on stage” and refers to all the elements that go into setting the scene. Lighting, how space is used, the styling of objects and costumes and the composition of the entire scene within the frame all go into creating a sense of place within a film.
One my favourite masters of mise-en-scene is Jacques Tati. Through elaborate choreography of the actors' interactions with the set, Tati creates moments of surprise in what seem like ordinary, everyday scenes. While Tati's scenes are beautifully composed, mise-en-scène is not judged purely on aesthetics. More important is the affective quality and how well it amplifies the themes of the story.
And I would extend these criteria to evaluating the mise-en-scène in everyday life. The quality of our interiors are determined by the impact they have on our wellbeing – not whether they’re beautiful or not. More important than beauty is ambience, an enveloping mood that helps us frame our experiences as meaningful. In one of my favourite Born Ruffians songs, the band asks, “Isn’t everyone trying to turn their lives into their favourite film?” This millennial's answer: yes.