Sharing travel expertise with Denniston’s Jean-Michel Gathy


With a globetrotting tally of 160 countries visited and 200 days a year spent travelling, designer Jean-Michel Gathy is literally a world-class expert. Stephen Penn finds out which destinations fuel his creative genius

Belgian-born architect and Principal Designer of Denniston, Jean-Michel Gathy, is as comfortable at a black-tie gala as he is backpacking off the beaten path.

Gathy has spent more than half his life jet-setting around the world visiting the luxurious properties he’s designed, from the Cheval Blanc Randheli by LVMH in the Maldives to The Chedi Muscat in Oman. In his spare time, the self-proclaimed gypsy can be found donning a back pack in the Grand Canyon, roaming the back streets of New Orleans or bush-trekking in the Serengeti on one of the many safaris.

A child when he discovered his passion for geography and architecture in the wake of numerous family trips, Gathy has always used natural wonders as a source of discovery and inspiration for his projects. Then, in 1983, he founded Denniston, an architectural practice which specialises in innovative design for up-market hotels.

For almost 40 years, Gathy has been one step ahead of the design curve, forging new trends and inspiring the world with his passion for innovative design, which invariably surpasses expectations.

Do you have any favourite cities?

It’s impossible to name just one, as I’ve been to 160 countries. I like places which have multiple layers, not just a nice décor - but lots to do. A city needs to offer more than just a pleasing aesthetic. Top of my list are Sydney, New York, Florence and of course Venice. Who doesn’t like Venice?

Which ‘off-the-beaten-track’ places have inspired you most?

I adore Bhutan. It has such a melting-pot culture and some of the most incredible temples in the world. I love when a place has a diverse mix of ethnic attractions, villages and scenery. There are also beautiful trails, mountains and monasteries. It is a very inspiring part of the world.

How are your designs influenced by travel?

As an architect you never turn your brain off. Wherever you go, you’re analysing your surroundings and questioning why they look the way that they do. It’s impossible for that not to influence what you create. It’s never a case of setting out to recreate the things that you see, but your mind collates what it has seen, it builds up a library of emotions, souvenirs, perceptions and dimensions. Then when you design - it all comes out subconsciously.

Any parts of the world that remain on your bucket list to visit?

I spend around 200 days a year travelling, but there are still places I’d love to explore. I’ve never been to Antarctica or the Arctic. I’m also crazy about Iceland, another stunning place I’ve not yet had the pleasure of experiencing up close. The Galapagos Islands are another ‘must-see.’

Which locations are contenders for the property hotspots of 2018?

There’s a huge demand for Bangkok. It’s an incredible place and really booming – Thailand is the second most visited country in the world. The Middle East, especially Dubai, will also remain hot both in temperature and real estate dynamism. In contrast, I see New Zealand slowing down because of the new rules the Prime Minister has imposed on residential development.


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