His name may not be immediately familiar, but his client list reads like the who’s who of the hospitality industry. He has designed for nearly every major top-tier hotel brand you can think of, from Aman and One&Only to Four Seasons and Raffles. Belgian architect Jean-Michel Gathy is the man behind some of the world’s most iconic designs like the One&Only Reethi Rah and Cheval Blanc Randheli by LVMH in the Maldives, The St. Regis Lhasa in Tibet, Park Hyatt Sanya Sunny Bay Resort in China, The Setai in Miami, Florida, The Viceroy Snowmass in Aspen, Colorado, and Aman Canal Grande in Venice. Whenever a new hospitality project comes up on the drawing board, you can be sure that he is the first choice of developers and hoteliers worldwide, as he has more experience than anyone else in the niche of ultra-luxury hotels. He boasts over three decades of experience in high-end hotel design that’s all-inclusive: exteriors, interiors and landscaping. “We are the spoilt kids of the hotel industry,” he states. “Whenever a first-class hotel wants to open somewhere, they will always contact us. We get two or three offers a day. We have done so many. We have The Setai, best hotel in America, Amanyara, best hotel in the Caribbean, One&Only Maldives, best hotel in the Indian Ocean, The Chedi Andermatt, best hotel in Europe. The list just goes on and on. The more we live within that context, the more we appreciate the lifestyle, the more we understand it and the more we get a kick out of it.”
Always one step ahead of the competition, the Principal Designer of Denniston has revolutionized the hospitality sector with his inspired designs that showcase a profusion of swimming pools and water features, sustainability and local cultural elements. Important innovations that show off his ingenuity include stylish hammock-style nets over the water at the One&Only Reethi Rah, barefoot luxury tented accommodation at Amanwana on Moyo Island in Indonesia, and Chinese art and bathtubs in the center of the room at The Setai. He pioneered the trend for show-stopping swimming pools, private plunge pools, reflecting pools, spacious rooms, soaring ceilings, and giant spa-like bathrooms with freestanding tubs and areas to sit and recline. An innovator, he has long understood that design is about challenging the status quo, and he has profound knowledge of how hotels function and what demanding, rich and famous guests expect, deeply attuned to their lifestyles as he spends plenty of time getting to know them. When it comes to hotel design, there are no secrets left for him.
While many architects focus on the exteriors, not what is inside, Gathy makes it a point to work on the architecture, interior design and landscaping for approximately 80 % of his projects. This holistic way of working ensures that everything flows. For instance, beds and windows are correctly positioned in relation to one another, so you can look out of the window when lying in bed onto beautiful landscapes. He notes, “An architect can be very good, but if the interior designer doesn’t fit the same theme, it will look strange. We were one of the very first to start the trend of doing architecture, interiors and landscape because we believe that for the hospitality industry, this seamless design process best serves the purpose of a hotel. When you design a hotel, it’s a home away from home. You want to feel comfortable. But you never question why it’s nice. It could be the air-conditioning, the lighting, the quality of the mattress, the welcome at the reception, the lobby space, the guy who opens the door for you, the lift, the garden, the swimming pool, the spa, the restaurant, etc. You like the place but you don’t know why. Actually it’s because the architect addressed all the components that fulfill your feelings and sensations. Noise, light control, spacing – everything is important. So when you do architecture, interiors and landscape, you address all these components in a synergetic way. You don’t say, ‘I’m stopping here. We’ll see later about somebody else who’s going to do that.’”
Gathy’s name is perhaps most closely associated with Aman, having constructed for the group numerous hotels around the globe, including Amanwana, Aman Canal Grande and Aman Summer Palace in Beijing, China. He explains why, “Architecture is about emotion. You have two types of architects. You have technical architects who like construction details, codes, regulations and technical aspects. That’s people who design high-rise buildings in town. And then you have design architects who design the product because they like the creative part of it, and I’m one of these guys. Creativity is emotion. I want to design something that gives me the chance for creativity and for articulating architecture, interiors, landscape – I want this to dance together. I want creativity holistically. Aman is exactly in line with what I’m seeking. An Aman project gives me the opportunity to be myself. The founder likes design and architects, whereas with many developers, there is no discussion – they just want numbers. I’m not an accountant; I’m a designer, an artist, by nature. Aman gives me the opportunity to fulfill that part of my personality.”