By Dobrina Zhekova
Apr 8, 2022
“A 500-SEAT RESTAURANT where everybody has breakfast on a buffet? That’s doomed,” says Jean-Michel Gathy, architect and principal designer of Denniston. If anyone else had made this statement about imminent change, it might be met with eye rolls, but coming from Gathy, the authority in design and architecture of luxury hotels (including the hotly anticipated Aman New York), it almost sounds like a fait accompli.
During his 35 years of experience, Belgium-born Gathy has worked with the most prominent ultra-luxury hospitality brands: Cheval Blanc, Aman, Four Seasons, One&Only, Armani, Mandarin Oriental, St. Regis, and many more. If you’ve ever enjoyed the jaw-dropping pool atop the iconic Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, you have Gathy to thank for it. His incredible eye for luxury and exceptional talent, deep knowledge of the hotel industry, and sense of innovation have made him a legend and put him in a league of his own.
“Hospitality is becoming more and more niche. […]Instead of having one big all-day dining [place], you’re going to end up with three smaller restaurants,” he explains. “Basically, it’s about reducing the size and increasing the number of venues.” You can see this theory come to life in the new, Gathy-designed drinking-and-dining hub Four Seasons Bangkok at Chao Phraya River, which with its multiple water features and swimming pools made quite the splash when it opened in late 2020.
Massive resorts with thousands of rooms will be replaced by smaller, more private properties that offer more facilities and accommodate longer stays, he predicts.
Of course, it’s primarily the pandemic and the need to reduce large gatherings and allow more space for social distancing that has created this trend. The plexiglass dividers many hotels have incorporated in their reception areas will also be a permanent design feature.
According to Gathy, technology will play a significant role in helping to change the in-room and elevator experiences this year, predicting that hotels will increase the number of elevators and their speed but reduce their maximum capacity. “I’m sure you’ll get in the lift, and you’ll say, ‘sixth floor,’ and you won’t have to push a button,” he adds.
Voice control technology will also be integrated into rooms to limit guests’ contact with surfaces. You’ll soon be able to adjust your air conditioning and turn on your TV and audio system with a few words. And the same applies to the bathroom — sophisticated sensors will be everywhere.
“You’re going to tell your shower, ‘I want 36 degrees and medium pressure,’ and you’re going to have 36 degrees and medium pressure. It’s going to tell you, ‘Your shower is ready,'” Gathy says, enunciating the last four words in a monotonous, machine-like lilt.
And for him, that’s not just a fad or a trend that will one day go away, that’s progress.
“Why would you want your shower to take half an hour to get the right [water] temperature? And you burn yourself because it’s too hot or the pressure is too low. Why would you do that? So I believe that people will get used to comfort,” he explains.
And speaking of comfort, branded hotel residences that offer guests a chance to own a property in their favorite high-end resort are also here to stay. According to Gathy, it all comes down to one thing: “Hospitality development is a business.” Hoteliers have a much faster return on investment by offering branded hotel residences, so more and more will change their business model to build smaller hotels than they may have before and develop for-sale properties on-site.
And because more countries are implementing greener building regulations and standards, hotels and architects have gone through a green sea change, becoming progressively more eco-friendly in their practices and materials. But, happily for luxury travelers, that won’t come at the expense of quality or aesthetics.
“Nowadays, people use ceramic tiles that look like wood. They even smell like wood. You also have extraordinary copies of marble,” he says. “All of this reduces the use of natural resources […], and that is a very, very good thing for the future.”
Gathy’s busy schedule in 2022 includes the opening of three new properties: the long-awaited Aman New York, which will debut in May, Cheval Blanc in the Seychelles, and Jumeirah Bali. Naturally, we asked him to give us a sneak peek of the design and inspiration behind all three resorts.
“The DNA of an Aman Resort is the sense of place, so the sense of place we [considered] for New York is the word ‘energy.’ So what we have tried to do is we have kept the physical DNA, but we have designed it in such a way that it can be vibrant and lively,” he explains.
In the Seychelles, Gathy has designed a “quirky, contemporary version of colonial architecture.” In Bali, where his firm is responsible for the forthcoming Jumeriah interiors, he is incorporating European influences, as he describes it, into a “Dutch-cum-Royal-Javanese” aesthetic.
One thing is certain: with Jean-Michel Gathy at the helm, we have plenty to look forward to as these properties are unveiled.