NOW talks to multi-award winning French-Belgian architect Jean-Michel Gathy, the principal designer at leading hospitality design firm Denniston, whose exceptional portfolio includes Aman resorts and the Chedi Muscat. Find out more.
One word that describes you?
Positive. I believe in the power of positive energy and that you must be present and love life to be truly content.
In your own words, what do you do?
I am the Principal Designer and Founder of Denniston, a niche architectural and design company.
What must happen now to help make our hotels more sustainable?
Happily, much has changed in terms of sustainability and environmental protection in the last couple of years, and in hotel design current innovations now relate to how to build things responsibly. Material use is changing dramatically, and I’m constantly looking at new modernisations – windows that are also solar panels, pergolas in aluminium made to look like wood, which don’t warp and help to preserve our forests. We are learning about new technology every single day, integrating new requirements and constantly adjusting our architectural language.
Which is your favourite part of your job?
The creativity. I believe hotels have more space for creativity than any other type of design. It’s such a fantastic mix between a fun product, technical knowledge and knowhow of the industry. If you don’t know the business, you can’t design a hotel.
Which is the part that you enjoy the least?
Nothing – I enjoy the all-encompassing nature of my job.
Who is your greatest influence?
The Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa, who created what we call tropical architecture – the style you see at Aman Resorts. Adrian Zecha, the founder of Aman, is an absolute fan of his work too. Adrian’s my professional mentor, whilst philosophically I am inspired by Geoffrey.
Best advice you’ve been given?
Designing a hotel is not an intellectual trip, it is a business, and you have to design for your guests, not yourself. A lot of designers design for themselves.
Your personal indulgence?
Travel – I love the African bush and Kenya, Botswana and Namibia have some stunning safari camps. I love to visit countries that have soul, charisma and a strong social identity – no matter where you are, every country has something new to offer in terms of inspiration. I would love to travel to Iceland to see its rugged landscapes, glaciers, rough seas, hot springs and volcanoes. I’d also like to visit the south of Chile and the peninsula of Kamchatka in Russia, which has extraordinary wildlife and endless forests. Collecting art is also an indulgence of mine, and I like to collect and invest in local artwork whilst on my travels.
How do you like to travel?
As comfortably and seamlessly as possible, whether I’m on a long-haul flight or short transfer to a new destination. Constant travel is a huge part of my job and allows me to observe different cultures and to be continuously inquisitive about my surroundings, which is a key part of the design process.
Favourite hotel or other place to stay?
I have so many that I appreciate for different reasons, however the Four Seasons in Florence and The Huka Lodge in New Zealand stand out. I also love to stay at the Amanwana in Indonesia, which was one of my first hotel designs back in 1990 at the beginning of my career. I visit every couple of years with my family for a diving holiday, which my son always enjoys. I developed some of my signature design elements during this project and I am still very attached to it – it feels like home and is very special to me.
What steps do you take to make your life more sustainable?
I constantly aim to reduce my use of plastic in my day-to-day life. Single-use plastics are a huge issue currently at the forefront of public consciousness and I think this is an area we can make great strides in. Little changes made by everyone can make a significant difference.
Any regrets so far?
No. 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.