Jean-Michel Gathy is the spoilt child of the hotel and design world. He is the principle designer at Denniston and the man behind many of the world’s most iconic hotels, such as Cheval Blanc Randheli in the Maldives, where Kate and William recently holidayed
Talented and debonair Gathy has been responsible for some of the greatest hotel designs in the world, and has worked for every luxurious hotel group you can name from Aman through to One&Only and created some of our most enduring hotel moments along the way, in 2013 alone Jean-Michel opened no less than 9 hotels.
A creative genius and one to be admired in the industry, it was a pleasure to spend some time with Jean-Michel to find out more…
How did you get into the industry?
Since I was young I have always had a very deep love for travel, and with travel of course, comes the association to hotels because you have to stay somewhere. And I got to love travelling and love hotels. Since my university time I have been in love with architectural design and interior design, and landscape design, and therefore these three loves associated with travel could not be of better use than designing hotels…
I am fascinated by architecture and interior landscape, thus when you put these two together…
You have created some really iconic masterpieces, which has been your proudest creation?
Obviously, there are some elements of projects that you are more proud of than others, but it’s certainly not amalgamated into one project.
Each project has something special. The iconic part of my design is the fact that for every project, it is always successful with the client. For many people, iconic is a tanglible, materialistic statement – it’s a beautiful swimming pool, for example – all of these are iconic elements, but the one that I am the most proud of is the fact that guests always love my hotels. That is intanglible.
Ultimately what counts, the achievement is to ensure that guests love it – and that it is iconic.
Ask me my favourite? I ask you – if you have children, let’s say four, which is your favourite? Of course, you cannot say. You love them all. My proudest creation is the fact that my guests always love my hotel and feel at home.
Design guru is a name that you are referred to in the industry and you are famed for designing not on a computer but by hand. Tell us more about this process…
Very simple. How we design is not the result of technology. Technology is only a tool, like a hammer. Design is about emotion, nuance, experience, mistakes that you’ve done, understanding the site – whether it be the seas, or the mountains. It’s about understand the requirements of the clientele.and all of thes are actually intangible emotions. And only your hand can actually translate these emotions in lines. Because a gorgeous building is an object that you can trace with technology, but you must conceive with the heart. The translator of the heart is your hand. In design, it’s the hand.
I design by hand because I want emotion to be expressed and what this is designed and conceived by hand, then it can be traced with a tool.
Outside of the world of design, what do you like to do to relax?
Sports. I like sports and I like visiting art galleries.
I like outdoor sports; I like tennis, running. I like cross country running. I like the sea and I like to go on boats, and I like to go and come back feeling like ‘god, I’m exhausted!’ – physically of course, not emotionally.
I also love to get in touch with my emotional and artistic side by visiting art galleries. I love Botello, Cabellut and Picasso, for example. I like Asian art and I love Chinese paintings. I like modern art. I like Mr Brainwashed – an English artist. And I like Rancinan – the French photographer.
Does creativity run in your family?
No. I believe my family have good taste and are artistically balanced and knowledgeable but they are not necessarily creative.
My wife is the one on the whole who is the most sensitive to art and beauty, and one of my sons.
You’re clearly a very well-travelled man, where do you feel most at home?
At home in Malaysia. But of course, I do sometimes miss my native Belgium.
It doesn’t really matter where you are in life, as long as you are in a balanced and emotional environment with people you care for. The physical part of the way you are is irrelevant. If I am with with my family in Peru, let’s say, I feel great. But if I am alone in another place, I feel bad.
I feel good in terms of social and political context.
What is next on the agenda for you?
I am working on several hotels all over the world at the moment, and I love them all, each of them is more challenging than the next, and that just turns me on.
I love what I do. I am totally addicted to my family, and to my work.