The world might have come to an economic standstill, but Jean-Michel Gathy informs me that he’s still as busy as ever despite being holed up at home. The effortlessly charming 65-year-old Belgian national shares what it took to produce for a presentation he had concluded the night before: “I spent 14 hours a day on it for 30 days straight.”
It is this tireless work ethic that has placed the principal designer and his firm, Denniston Architects, behind more than 25 of the most breathtaking luxury hotels and resorts around the world. His extensive portfolio, which comprises some of the biggest names in the industry, includes hospitality heavyweights such as Aman Resorts, One&Only Resorts and the Las Vegas Sands Corporation for which he designed the world’s largest rooftop infinity pool at Marina Bay Sands.
And there’s more to come. Gathy tells me that he is neck-deep in three new projects. He has signed nondisclosure agreements but can share that they are located in Korea, Saudi Arabia and an undisclosed Middle Eastern country. With so much on his plate, one wonders how he manages to churn out hit after award-winning hit without missing a beat. According to the man, the secret to great design is surprisingly simple – logic.
“You need to have an analytical mind,” says the Kuala Lumpur native. It’s a characteristic that runs contrary to what most people perceive as the building blocks of creativity, but Gathy explains that design is the successful marriage of creativity and business.
“When you design a hotel, you are conceptualising a business for someone to run. The hotel has to work, so it makes sense from a physical design standpoint to create something that serves a target market.”
But the hotel, says Gathy, also has to be “attractive” and it is this balance between logic and emotion that he has mastered. “A Moroccan writer once said to me that a Jean-Michel Gathy design is sometimes intimate, sometimes dramatic, but always charismatic. I think that’s a brilliant way to encapsulate my designs.
“There is always emotion in my designs. When you check in to a hotel, you are away from home. But you still want to be comfortable. To me, the mark of a well-designed hotel is one where you feel as such. There are so many beautiful hotels in the world that are unsuccessful because they are cold and emotionless.”
The little things matter to him: a place to sit down and read a book with a cup of coffee within reach; a room with a sun-kissed terrace looking out onto the beach; even a strategically-placed mirror that expands the room.
With the great also comes the not so good. Gathy admits that there have been times in his career when he’s had to grapple with problems that seemed insurmountable. The hardest battles were not creative or financial but bureaucratic. Gathy constantly had to deal with revised or completely new building codes, some of which would only manifest themselves during the construction of each project.
Of course, he now takes these issues in his stride. Instead of getting frustrated, the designer has adopted a new mindset: “When you are a professional, any difficulty is a challenge. And I approach every challenge as pleasure because it is part of my work.”
(Related: Jean-Michel Gathys’ Secret to Design)