Jean-Michel Gathy & The Art of Luxury Resort Design 


As the celebrated principle designer of leading Kuala Lumpur-based architectural firm Denniston, Jean-Michel Gathy is one of the world’s most prolific and revered architects of luxury hotels and resorts. Jean-Michel has designed for many 5 star luxury hotel brands and boutique properties including Banyan Tree, Mandarin Oriental, Shangri-La, One&Only, Cheval Blanc and of course Aman, receiving a number of awards and accolades for his work on all of them. His signature stylish elegance can be seen throughout all his projects.
“I set out to inject a contemporary haven within a culturally rich environment, one that offers guests an authentic yet dramatic experience”.
Born in Brussels, Belgium Jean-Michel grew up in Liege from the age of five, graduating in 1978 he has been a professional designer ever since. A unique feature to how Jean-Michel works is that for most of his firm’s projects, they are appointed as architects, interior designers and hardscape designers. This, across the board, service creates seamless design synergy and control between these three disciplines which fosters a far more seamless flow when complete.

Asked what artists and art fuel his inspiration, “I like Cheval, Picasso, Botero but also, Rembrandt, Vermeer and Jan Steen. I find all of these artists have strong personalities and identities. I also like Asian art, Peruvian Art, the Mayas but also, the Romans, Greeks, Egyptians cultures for their accomplishments and contributions to the development of the world. I also love the Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Arabic cultures for their crafts and refinements and I love African art for their soul and the rhythm”. And when it comes to the architect he is inspired by the most, “I would say I’ve been most inspired by the architect from Sri Lanka, Geoffrey Bawa. He made known what we call tropical architecture, he created the style of architecture you see at Aman Resorts.

When it comes to the elements that are integral to the architectural success of his projects, Jean-Michel is point out that Geometry is fundamental in the composition of architecture because the human mind is programmed to like it. Our minds like it when something is balanced, with logic between the proportions and elements, geometry should guide the design, and then that should be backed up by proper lighting. Lighting emphasises geometry because it creates shadows. It’s the same with scenery, which looks best at sunset because of the long shadows the sun casts. I design in such a way that the lighting dances with the architecture. As with many of the great architects, an integral component to their design process is location, Jean-Michel explains, “the first thing I do when I design a resort is go to see the site, as this is what inspires me the most.  It’s the emotions, perception and chemistry of the site that gives me an idea of what angle I can emphasize or which direction to look in for the best views or privacy. The site guides the design and essentially tells me everything I need to know”.


Three particularly outstanding projects, amongst a sea of many, which drew our attention were the simply stunning Aman Canal Grande in Venice which features elaborate frescos and flamboyant Rococo ornamentation that complement the geometric furnishings. Cheval Blanc Randheli, surrounded by the turquoise waters of the Noonu Atoll in the Maldives is nothing short of a work of art. It’s difficult to strike the right balance when merging traditional and contemporary design elements, but at Cheval Blanc Randheli Jean-Michel succeeded in creating architecture that fits the context of palm cabana stylistics of the islands, while providing relaxed and serene spaces. The third project, and a Cocotraie favourite, is the exceptional Amanyara in the Turks & Caicos. A combination of two contrasting worlds; sleek Asian design and the natural rugged beauty of one of the Caribbean’s least developed islands. The resort is classic Aman, clean, simple and stylish (Indonesian woods, white and cream interiors) with Jean-Michel signature touch.

Does he ever feel the pressure, “of course, you simply cannot fail, ‘No’ does not exist in my world, you are dealing with top people. It’s super-pressuring but I love it. If you can’t do it, don’t design luxury hotels”.

For more information about Jean-Michel Gathy and his architectural firm Denniston  T: Malaysia 603 20313418.  email: