It’s safe to say that Jean-Michel Gathy, the Malaysia-based and Belgium-born mastermind behind drool-worthy hotels like the Setai, Miami Beach and the Chedi Muscat, is no stranger to traveling in style. Fresh off the heels of being named the designer of the much-anticipated Aman New York (which is set to open just off of Central Park in 2020), Robb Report sat down with the interior designer to talk all things travel—from what’s on his itinerary for 2018 and his favorite off-the-grid Malaysian spots to a peek at what makes his properties so special.
You’ve designed resorts for Aman in the past, but the Aman in New York is going to be very different from properties like Sevti Stefan in Monte Negro. Can you share how you are approaching the design this time around?
Aman Resorts has a very specific DNA; it’s in the design, in the lighting, in the size, in everything. But most of the Aman designs I’ve done before were for resorts—so obviously there is a lot of nuance here. Even though it has the Aman DNA, it’s now an urban Aman, and we want to respect the New York lifestyle, weather, and architecture. So this hotel will have all of the peacefulness of Aman, yet the vibration of New York. It will respect the American culture and way of life, but will have the softness of Asia.
I am most excited about the terrace that will be on the 10th floor—its unbelievably well located, and looks over Central Park. It’s going to be huge and really nicely proportioned. The rooms are also going to be very spacious—the standard is 800 square feet, which is amazing for the city—bigger than most people’s apartments! The spa, an Aman signature, is of course also going to be great.
What project are most looking forward to completing in 2018?
We are opening the Andaz Hotel Sunnybay, China in the Spring. The property is actually next to the Park Hyatt, which we opened a year and a half ago. They are very close to each other in terms of physical proximity, but it terms of design they are very different. The Park Hyatt is a little bit more urban, a little bit more sleek and sophisticated. The Andaz is more beachy and relaxed. It has big open spaces and a casual lounge feel.
Describe your perfect hotel room.
So there are two types: the urban and the resort. And I say both because the expectations are very, very different.
Most of the time I travel to urban destinations for business, so for me the one quality I need is comfort. It doesn’t matter if the room is big, small, high-ceilinged, or low, as long as I feel comfortable, it’s good. This means that the acoustics are very important (I absolutely don’t want to hear my neighbor) as is the color scheme. Some designers get carried away with an exciting color palette in the office, but when you’ve had an 18-hour flight, you want to make sure that when you enter your room, you feel peaceful.
For a resort, my main concern is how the room opens to the outside. I want to make sure that it has fantastic windows, and that my view is good—it should all flow seamlessly to the outside. That’s why you’re there, after all.
What are your favorite under-the-radar destinations in Malaysia?
The East Coast of Malaysia has some very attractive offshore islands, and they are fantastic holiday destinations. I particularly love Tioman, Perhentian, and Redang—they have a beautiful tropical atmosphere, the homes are built on stilts, there are palm trees, et cetera. It’s all picture perfect.
Taman Negara national park is one of my other favorite spots—it is a stunning jungle where you can see tigers and other amazing animals. I also love Langkawi on the West Coast of the country.
What is on your itinerary for 2018?
My top three destinations would be Thailand, Bali, and Japan. I am fascinated by the culture of each place. I love the Thai personality—they are very smooth, very pleasant—and the country is extremely artistic. Bali’s succession of villages and ceremonies is beautiful too.
Japan has the most gorgeous gardens and an amazing collection of temples. And the Japanese live really differently than the rest of the world. There is a peacefulness to Kyoto and the Northern countryside that is just amazing.