Before boarding a plane, luxury hospitality designer Jean-Michel Gathy talks to Ren Wan about creating the world’s most exclusive retreats, including the three anticipated openings at Hainan Island.
Photographs courtesy of Jean-Michel Gathy
Jean-Michel Gathy was born in Brussels and brought up in Liege. He revealed his passion for travelling at a young age – as a child, Gathy would organise family holidays due to his strong interest in the world. Growing up, he chose hospitality design to be his lifelong profession.
“I studied to be an architect and I wanted to design something fun that I personally love. Designing a beautiful hotel is,” says Gathy. In April 2006, he was inducted into the ‘Platinum Circle of Hospitality Design’ and honoured as an industry icon for his immense contributions to the world of hotel design.
St Regis, Lhasa, Tibet
Gathy has under his belt myriad top-tier clients in the likes of Aman, One&Only, Park Hyatt and Shangri-La. “When hospitality developers have a new project, we are always invited.” Gathy asserts. Shadows of his designs cast upon the best known retreats around the world, from the Indonesian Island of Moyo, where the wilderness hideaway of Amanwana quietly sits, to Swiss village Andermatt, home of the sought-after Chedi.
Park Hyatt Sanya Sunny Bay Resort Lobby
Rather than creating interiors that simply cohere to a client’s branding, Gathy and his team define a retreat’s aesthetics with thoughtful and oftentimes pioneering features, such as the overwater hammocks at the One&Only Reethi Rah and the private plunge pools that grace many of his properties.
“What we design is lifestyle-oriented,” he explains – more precisely, it is a globe-trotting lifestyle that Gathy, who frequently finds himself indulging in a hotel, personally leads. “We have been designing luxury hotels for over twenty years. We know what it takes to make a unique one. It requires application of know-how, experience, thoughtful interiors and perfect lighting. My designs respond to what luxury travellers desire to experience. They also incorporate changes of trends,” he says.
Another signature of a Gathy design is harmony with its surrounding. Rather than creating an obviously Gathy-esque aesthetic, the team often designs after an in-depth research on location. “Different hotels have different styles. Some are cultural, whilst some spiritual or outdoorsy. The key is to match the design with its surrounding.”
The fabled Fuchun Resort is a case in point. Gathy and his team spent seven years designing this southern Song architecture-inspired LHW retreat on the banks of the Fuchun River.
“Hangzhou back then was still an unknown place to many.” Gathy recalls, “My job was to come up with a proper design that tells people about Hangzhou.” Hence the long years were spent studying and experiencing the ancient city. The outcome, set amid a hillside tea plantation in the lake district of Fuyang, was inspired by a 13th-century painting by Huang Gongwang.
To highlight the breathtaking beauty the property has been blessed with, the resort offers guests a look at the artistic universe of the Yuan Dynasty. Feng Shui concepts were applied to harmonise the environmental energy and the well-being of its guests. “In Asia, we live mainly outdoors, and so it is impossible to disassociate the outside from the inside. The terraces, swimming pool and gardens are part of the global vision in which the building itself becomes one of the elements.” says Gathy.
The latest work by Jean-Michel Gathy is Park Hyatt Sanya Sunny Bay, which unveiled at Hainan Island in February 2015. In the same city, two other properties – the One&Only Sanya Haitang Bay and Andaz (Hyatt’s new boutique brand for urban professionals) Sanya Sunny Bay will greet its guests in 2016. According to Gathy, Sanya is the new hotspot for retreats. “Every hotel developer, every architect, every designer wants to go there.”
“Very often, a hotel creates a destination,” he concludes.