restaurant, while this temporary restaurant installation was
designed to last only nine months. Obsolescence was planned.
Each month would have a different theme, food, music,
graphics and design, offering this successful chef a whimsical
incubator for group creativity.
“John loves Dovetail, but this was kind of his playground,” says
award-winning designer Elle Kunnos de Voss of The Metrics
( www.metricsdesigngroup.com), a New York design consultancy
company, who worked as part of a collaborative team alongside
Fraser, graphic designer Emilie Baltz of Baltz Works, New York,
and a suite of musicians commencing with Micah Silver. “I think
doing a temporary restaurant can be a great way to try out new
things and take creative risks that one wouldn't do in a permanent
establishment,” Kunnos de Voss says.
Beyond that, What Happens When had to challenge itself to
work on a budget. Kunnos de Voss spent just $143 on materials
for her special one-night Valentine’s Day installation, where
the cloth ceiling, composed of pink, red and purple triangles,
evoked a multicolored zinnia. “I did a gradient with 10 different
colors, and by some magic, it worked,” she says.
With nine ideas to spin out, each month was designed as a
“movement” unfolding inside a black box furnished with white
chairs and white tables from which diners removed their silverware,
in an offbeat touch. White marks on the walls and floors evoked
architectural renderings, further signaling insubstantiality. “I didn’t
have to think about durable materials. I didn’t have to think about
timeless design,” Kunnos de Voss says. “It was liberating.”
The first month’s design moved diners into a startling universe
amidst stars and snow and featured an abstract Nordic theme, for
which Silver created two hours of elusive background music, with
clips from a rural bonfire plus the sounds of snow falling on plastic
foliage transported by Silver to Walden Pond. “It was so inspiring.
He was so into it,” Kunnos de Voss says. “And John brought one of
his cooks into the dining room, pointed to my lighting fixtures, and
said, ‘Let’s do the lettuce salad something like that.’”
PHOTO CREDIT: Felix de Voss
Open parameters led to creative license. One art form inspired
the next. Ironically, a “Hamlet” cocktail designed for this first
“movement” would portend the “to be or not to be” drama soon
to ensue with the liquor license.
ABOVE: The interior concept of What Happens When's second movement, with a “where
the wild things are” theme, played with scale, the ceiling covered with oversized pine
needles, and swings showing miniature landscapes with moss and birds.
For the second month, Kunnos de Voss evoked a forest with
red birdhouses and giant wooden pine needles, witnessed from
the perspective of a child. Innocence reigned. Fraser served
soup in oversize bowls to minimize adults to childlike size, and
diners feasted on foods native to forests, including gooseberries
and venison tartare. Animal tracks marked the floor. Music
resembled rustling leaves as all the senses worked in concert.
Sales were good. Press was excellent. A French spring garden
party under an awning was followed by a jazz “movement,” then a
Prohibition theme, during which, in a consummate irony, the liquor
license was revoked. Issues were unresolvable, beauty and innocence
dissolved, and on June 25, What Happens When shut down.
But the closing didn’t discourage Kunnos de Voss from mounting
the next design, a Silk Road environment, if only for a moment.
Created from a series of 12 x 12 inch laser cutout panels, she
fashioned a world based on rug and tile designs from Turkey,
Babylon, Syria, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and two
regions of China. “It was weird, poignant and shocking, with five
of us sitting there eating takeout and thinking how lucky we were
to see this,” she says. “It was so magical.”
Cutouts as fragile as snowflakes hung in space, casting shadows.
And, true to a philosophy of flux, Kunnos de Voss adds, “It was
all about the process. It wasn’t about the end result.”
Here one day. Gone the next. Life is a series of moments