What Happens When, New York, Designed by The Metrics
Felix de Voss
What Happens When, New York, Designed by The Metrics
May 27, 2011 The temporary nature of the What Happens Next restaurant showcases an interior design and menu that changes every 30 days and leaves guest eager to visit again

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What Happens When, New York, Designed by The Metrics_01 As any designer can imagine, the greatest challenge within any temporary design, by its very nature, is time. “All the designs have to go from first concept to execution in just a few days,” explains Elle Kunnos de Voss, principal of The Metrics, who says that staying flexible is paramount to overcoming unforeseen roadblocks in temporary design installations. “It is a risk, which I knew when I started the project, so I accept when things are not executed exactly as planned each month. I think of the nine months as a whole process, with both highs and lows.”
What Happens When, New York, Designed by The Metrics_02 Since the space needs to change every month, and transform almost overnight for very little money, the design concept developed by The Metrics was developed to communicate and facilitate that notion. Boasting a dark grey interior, much like the abstract aesthetic of a black box theater, What Happens When offers the perfect backboard for the designers to experiment with varying design ideas. “We have projected our actual architectural drawings onto the surfaces of the space in scale 1:1, so the guests are invited into our process,” Kunnos de Voss says.
What Happens When, New York, Designed by The Metrics_03 As the monthly theme changes, so too does the floorplan. Unlike a blackboard, this portion won’t be wiped clean each time but rather will feature the previous “redline” as a means of recording the restaurant’s transformation. Adding to the space’s flexibility is a grid of hooks across the ceiling, set in 1-ft. increments, that allows for lighting and décor to be reconfigured.
What Happens When, New York, Designed by The Metrics_04 The first “Movement,” as Kunnos de Voss refers to the monthly themes, plays on the elements of space in a monochromatic landscape. In January, deconstructed, white shapes and fixtures boldly contrast against the dark walls at What Happens When, giving the room a distorted, archetypal perspective of ladder forms. Across the ceiling, deconstructed chandeliers and cardboard prism cutouts house large globe bulbs for illumination.
What Happens When, New York, Designed by The Metrics_05 Most interesting about the project to Kunnos de Voss is “the challenge of coming up with a design concept that communicates impermanency, facilitates change, and looks great. It’s a simple idea, and it works in the space. Most people may not know what the drawing symbols mean but it doesn’t matter; the raw “work in progress” aesthetic and flexibility is still perceivable,” she says.
What Happens When, New York, Designed by The Metrics_06 For Valentine’s Day, a romantic environment was portrayed, but the designers opted to steer clear of the holiday’s familiar heart-shaped clichés, instead draping purple and hot pink fabric through the existing hooks.
What Happens When, New York, Designed by The Metrics_07 The fabric, which only cost a total of $143, was cut into squares and then shaped into a triangle by hanging two pieces in a free-hanging, cross formation.
What Happens When, New York, Designed by The Metrics_08 Next to appear at What Happens When was Movement 2 and a play on scale. The lights are shaded with vintage typing paper sheets that flaunt a screen-printed bird motif; they are held together by a solitary staple. Fixtures on the counter feature live moss.
What Happens When, New York, Designed by The Metrics_09 Two moss-covered swings feature miniature landscapes of flora and fauna, while animal tracks are stenciled onto the floor, walls, and tables.
What Happens When, New York, Designed by The Metrics_10 Here, a forest seems to grow within the space, adorned with what Kunnos de Voss describes as “over-sized pine needles” that represent tree branches create movement across the ceiling. Small bird houses add a touch of whimsy.
What Happens When, New York, Designed by The Metrics_11 Kunnos de Voss says that the designs may not be perfect, but such is the nature of the beast. When asked how she would approach a similar project differently in the future, all she can say is, “In retrospect, I’m sure I will look at this differently. Yes, I’m sure I will want to change things…but I can answer that question better in October when this is all over!”