The architect behind the world’s most luxurious hotels

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Jean-Michel Gathy, director of a multidisciplinary company Denniston, is a household name in the design world. He has designed hotels for the most prestigious hotel brands including Four Seasons, Aman, Mandarin Oriental, Setai, One & Only, Cheval Blanc and many more.

He works worldwide building the most imaginative hotels and even enters the luxury yachting world, including his recent appointment as Senior Designer at M / Y NORTH, a superyacht for residential use and the most advanced green yacht in the world.

Gathy’s most recent work includes the highly anticipated Aman New York, the hotel’s first urban resort and residences in the United States (opening December); Aman Miami Beach; Jumeirah Bali; One & Only Montenegro; One & Only Dubai; Cheval Blanc Seychelles; and many more. The Belgian designer recently spoke with us Forbes about his impressive career, design ethos and future.

How did you get into hospitality design and what do you love most about it?

In 1989 I was involved in hospitality design. I have developed a method of renovating hotel rooms relatively quickly using systems made from prefabricated components. During one of my first hotel renovations, I met Hans Jenni, a founding partner of GHM. Through him I am involved in many hotel design projects, our first time in the Maldives. What I love most about hospitality design is the creative side. I have been working on projects for 30 years and have therefore understood the processes, requirements, needs, marketing, positioning, branding, etc. from within. Overall, I love the creativity this market enables me.

Aman New York is one of the most exciting hotel openings this year. How do you plan to bring Aman’s wellness, tranquility, and natural ethos to the heart of New York City?

What makes Aman so specific is the way we brought a sense of place into the design, which can be physical, electrical, etc. Nobody says if you build a Turkish house it has to be in Turkey. You have to pay homage to Turkish values, Turkish customs and Turkish elements. In New York, the sense of place is not an aesthetic, but an energy. What makes New York to New York is the enormous energy in the city. What we did is with Aman in terms of design. We kept it simple, inconspicuous, less is more, but still luxurious in terms of size, amount and privacy. We have created a space game in the public area. We created energy. The succession of rooms when you have an amazing lounge, bar, restaurant, terrace, cigar bar and amazing three story spa with a 20 meter pool inside. It stays Aman by the design and the sense of place, but we respected belonging to the energy of New York.

Aman Miami Beach is another exciting project. What does this property bring to the city from a design point of view?

Aman Miami Beach introduces a new dimension of class and sophistication to Miami Beach, a destination revered for its fantastic and fun party atmosphere. The Setai was our first project in Miami Beach that became known around the world for raising the bar on luxury. Aman Miami Beach brings even more class. It will be more differentiated. It will have the most breathtaking spa with an indoor pool that will be exceptional in Miami.

With so many hotel projects, how do you manage to make each one look and feel different while staying true to your own style?

It’s a simple thing, like a car. Mercedes, for example, has the Mercedes C200 which is a fabulous car. It is a family car, not too expensive and easy to care for. It has all Mercedes technologies, qualities and values. Then you have the Formula 1 GTS Mercedes or GTR Mercedes. They are all Mercedes, but they are all different. They have the same values, which also applies to my design. Whether I’m designing a simple project or a more challenging project, they all have the same DNA. It’s all in the artistry, in the way you control the value of DNA. They do not change the essence or the values ​​of the properties. They give them a feel for the place based on their location and surroundings. With Miami it would have more of a beach base, in New York it must have energy; it’s about the essentials. The geometry, the service quality and the equipment remain the same.

What are some of the projects that you have completed that are particularly close to your heart or that you have enjoyed the most?

I’ve worked on many projects around the world, but I’ll never say which one I think stands out the most. I think every time we got nominated for a project we managed everything and did everything we can to make sure the project stood out from the crowd. Sometimes the extraordinary thing about the project is the location, sometimes it’s the interior, the architecture or the incorporation of local values. Every project is different, but each has their own interests. Just like a child. I have four children, each with their own strengths and all different, but I still love all of my children equally. There are no projects that I prefer to others. I love them all

How has the pandemic changed the way you build hotels?

I think the pandemic will have consequences that we cannot fully assess today because we are still in it. We still need hotels in the hospitality industry, but people are more reluctant to handle ordinary objects. The construction industry is waiting for more and more innovations, such as voice-controlled switches, lights, televisions and sinks. These changes are even taking place in airplanes. We believe that the technology available on the market today is increasingly being used in the hospitality industry. Elevators will likely be scaled down, but faster and more of them. There will be fewer buffets.

One big thing that I think will happen is that we will rarely have 500 seat restaurants. I’m exaggerating to make it clear, but instead we will have ten restaurants with 50 seats instead. There will be differences.

Tell me about that M / Y NJORD Project and how your approach to something like this differs. What were some of the challenges?

In terms of interior design, it’s like any other project. We are conditioned to respect weight distribution, stability, structural performance, insulation and sealing. It’s not a big difference because it’s still the same language for yachts as it is for top hotels like Aman. Of course there are certain things that we have to design similar to a residential property. At the end of the day, the people on the superyacht come home to their suite. It is not a cruise ship that you vacation on, it is not a hotel, it is a residence. This is extremely important because that’s where they will live full-time.

We have to be very creative when designing the public areas. We want people to be comfortable so we have to get really creative and not crazy. Comfort is the ultimate word. It has to be visually, physically and economically comfortable and acceptable for all ages and tastes. That is where the difficulty lies. How can we accommodate the widest range without being boring? You can be boring if the design is too simple. We have to be very demanding, but not crazy. It’s a difficult balance, but ultimately the main issue is comfort.

What trends do you see in hotel design?

It’s not so much a trend as it is an evolution in the guest lifestyle. Since the hotel is a translation of this lifestyle, the hotel has to change in the same way. I do believe that hotels are becoming more and more specific. People go to hotels for sports, for spirituality. People go to meditate in the Himalayas, golf in Hawaii, or go on safaris to see wildlife. I think luxury is starting to get concrete. There will be a greater number of smaller properties. 800-1,000 room lodges are slowly being forgotten, except in large cities for obvious reasons. Resort hotels are getting smaller, more focused, more specific and more personal.

Privacy is also becoming increasingly important as people want to be more isolated. I think we’ll see more stand-alone pavilion hotels with private swimming pools and restaurants. Hotels will also have more facilities in my opinion so people can stay longer and work from home instead of because all the technology is available.


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