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Jean-Michel Gathys’ Secret to Design

What's the secret to designing luxury resorts? Travel, travel and travel, says the man behind The Chedi Andermatt.

Even among frequent travellers, Jean-Michel Gathy is a rarity. The Kuala Lumpur-based designer of luxury resorts such as Aman, Banyan Tree and One and Only is better at naming countries he has not visited rather than those he has – which, at last count, totals 187. It’s a passion that he says is key to his work. That, and over three decades of hotel-building experience and the quirks of his personality.

You only have to check into The Chedi Andermatt, which opened last month in time for ski season, to see how the three fundamentals are applied to create one of the most extraordinary hotels in the Swiss Alps. It’s the fi rst phase of an ongoing development project that will transform a small village of 3,000, located 90 minutes from Lucerne, in central Switzerland, into a 15 million sq ft lifestyle centre.

“The secret to my design, well it’s not so much a secret now, is that I travel continually,” says Gathy with a chuckle. At 58, he has spent 50 years jetting about. “I go to the best places, stay at the best hotels, I travel first class and by private jet.” He’s not boasting but merely pointing out how his exposure to services, facilities, conveniences and environments has given him an ideal perch from which to compare and critique. “You learn what you should and should not do so that, one day, you’ll design a restaurant or hotel that’s comfortable because you’ve addressed all these issues.”

For instance, all the times he has stood on a chilly terrace longing for warmth has been translated at The Chedi Andermatt into a fireplace located on the outside wall of every one of the hotel’s 106 rooms and suites. A sliding glass panel directs heat either indoors or outdoors.

If guests think that’s nifty, he can’t wait for them to step into the lobby. “You’ll feel like a star of the 1900s, Marilyn Monroe, but in a contemporary fashion,” he says, referring to the injection of old-world glamour in the design as a nod to the Grand Hotel Bellevue that used to stand on the site. To evoke that era, the space is bedecked with bevel glass lamps, lush velvet curtains and a chandelier, albeit one designed by Philippe Starck.

And, thanks to Gathy’s observations of how people socialise and have fun, the reception counter is a full-fl edged bar. “It’s a lifestyle feature,” he says. “When you go into a restaurant or cafe, you see people standing around the bar because it’s more socially comfortable to sit with people you’ve never met there. If you are at a table, you won’t get up and talk to a person because it will be improper.”

This creation of community is a deliberate contrast to the impersonality of large hotels. And it’s not just at the bar. The indoor swimming pool is striking not only for its skylights, but also its intimate vibe. “You’re surrounded by fi replaces, timber flooring, sofas and romantic lighting. Imagine a swimming pool in your living room,” says Gathy gleefully. Similarly, the gym is not some “torture place”. The equipment is divided by shelves of books, so it’s a library as well. “Nobody else does these things,” he says with a laugh. “Everybody will talk about the bar and the pool.”

They will probably talk about the ski butlers, too, who will save guests the unglamorous task of wrestling with their equipment. You’re in the Swiss Alps and precious time is better spent enjoying the slopes of Gemsstock Mountain. Great that someone had thought ahead.