“When you’re designing a luxury hotel, it’s not just about accommodations—you’re creating a lifestyle,” says Jean-Michel Gathy. For nearly 35 years, the award-winning architect and interior designer, and founder of noted firm Denniston, has been doing just that, beginning with his work on one of the earliest Aman resorts (after which he went on to help define the signature aesthetic of that brand with several more Aman projects) to spots like The Setai in Miami, Marina Bay Sands in Singapore (home to world’s largest rooftop pool) and Cheval Blanc Randheli in the Maldives.
Along the way, the Belgian-born visionary says he’s discovered that one of the secrets to creating these luxury lifestyle hubs is “to live like these guests do. I travel like them, go on yachts and jets like them—I don’t have to think about what the trends are, or what luxury travel needs, because it’s my life, also. I accommodate what they unconsciously want—but that’s a moving target. Plus,” he adds, “I am a little bit of an artist, so am sensitive to the way people live and their choices. I enjoy making those observations, and luxury resorts have to address those kinds of details.”
Gathy also stresses the importance of “choosing your horse for the course”—that is, building something with a sense of place and that reflects the setting. “What are the surroundings, it is a high-rise or on the sea, in a city versus beach? You dig out of the country or location the fundamental characteristics, and all this informs how you look at the building, and what it is going to be.” Ultimately, though, he stresses that “a resort or hotel is place you have to feel at home away from home. Whoever the guest is—regardless of gender, age, profession—if I have created something where the people feel comfortable, I have succeeded. I don’t want them to know why they like a place—just that they want to go back.”
It’s these types of insights that have made Gathy and his firm among the most sought-after designers in the five-star hotel space—a distinction that’s led to a monumental slate of 2020 openings and master plan announcements, from Montenegro to Tokyo. Here, Gathy walks us through three of this year’s most notable launches, revealing the inspirations behind their designs and some of his own favorite highlights.