You are a great traveller, when did your love of travel start?
I developed my passion for maps, geography, countries, geopolitics when I was about six years old. I wasn't looking at cars etc., but was looking at maps and was fascinated by these. When I was about nine years old, my father allowed me to take control of a family trip through Europe. I didn't want to look silly in front of my brothers and sisters, and so was sure to organise everything - not just where to stop at night, but also what we were going to visit. This would include the old, European churches, where I would explain all about their background, the art and design behind them and so on, to all of my family. I also adopted the role of taxi driver - 'turn here, let's stop for an hour... I know this little place...'
Why the interest in hotels? When I travel, I always stay in hotels. Why architecture? Because I spent all of my time studying buildings, finding out who built them, what made them so special etc.
What inspires you about hotel design in particular, as opposed to say residential or commercial?
My love of travelling and geography brought me to travel, and my love of travel led me to architecture. Travelling has always been in my genes.
When you travel, you are always away from your base. So you need a place where you can feel at home. And so, a hotel becomes your home. I am very concerned about the hotel I stay in, because it is my life. Simple things, like a proper shower, making sure the lift goes fast, that the TV works, for example, are all important. And so the more you travel, the more sensitive you become to hotel specificity.
When I design, I design what I know best. I know hotels better than hospitals, theatres or opera houses - and so I specialise in this field.
Your design company has been behind some of the world's most innovative hotel design; One & Only, Chedi and Aman, Mandarin Oriental are all in your impressive portfolio. How do you approach each individual design challenge?
Architects are supposed to be creative. The definition of a creative person is someone who is excited by something new. Yet ask that person to do something that was done yesterday; they are not interested.
You could say that my mind works in this way. Like every architect. By progressively training and training some more, one's mind is sharpened, and therefore we very easily find new ways, new strategies and new design features - this is essentially derived from one's personality. People are either creative - organic, or other-minded. Some people have a medical mind; I have a creative mind. And this needs to be fine-tuned; trained. Take the example of a swimmer: this swimmer trains, and becomes a great swimmer. They train for 3o years, and become even greater, and more knowledgeable in their field.
Each time that something new comes in, we need to pull memories from these various trainings. This is what allows us to be creative.
What is the single best/defining thing about Denniston as a company?
I will state two things, because we could never say one.
Denniston have mastered the art of seamlessly designing architecture interior landscape. In our company, we do the whole thing. And it is seamless for this reason. People always say 'I feel comfortable here' - why? It is the seamless design that is responsible. When I design a hotel, I design the size of the room before the other features, or the façade, and so I design from the inside-out. This is a very fundamental thing, and it is extremely rare for an architect to design in this way.
Secondly, our projects have a good sense of place. When we design something in Japan, for example, it is something very relevant to the Japanese lifestyle. People feel that they are in Japan, but do not know why. (Something I do not like - that you see often with designers - is that they go, let's say, to Mexico, and redesign Mexico. This is basic, first degree; they just copy and call themselves creative.) The difficulty is in taking the essence of a place, whether it is the windows, the roof design, or even something cultural or ritual. Bali is a fond example - the focus here is on the water in the villages, where people go to one part of the river to wash, and another part of the river to do something else. Thus, when designing a project in Bali - I refer back to these cultural components, creating a sophisticated way of linking the architecture to the place.
Two of your latest projects - Cheval Blanc Randheli in the Maldives and the Chedi Andermatt & Residences are due to open later this year. Both are very different - one snow, one sand. Can you tell us a little about your favourite aspects of each?
Sometime I like the beach; sometimes I like to ski.
For Cheval Blanc Randheli, and for the beach, we had it clear in our minds that we were designing a beach holiday. So we imagined this - that we would be bare foot, in a bathing suit, taking the boat out, going fishing etc., because the state of mind you put yourself in determines the way that you design. In Randheli, we have designed a resort which maximises the pleasure of being outdoors and on the beach, yet all whilst having the ability to be comfortable, which is important due to the harsh environment - sand, water, wind and sun. All of these elements determine your vision - and you must do whatever you can to translate these perceptions into a design. For example, the colour scheme on the beach is fresh; lively greens and blues, whereas in the winter, it is softer, cosy, with furs, fabrics etc.
For The Chedi Andermatt, or winter, for example - this is the opposite. You know you're going to be cold, have snow, go to ski etc. and thus you put your mind into this. With design, it is important to address all of these points.
For both projects, we have tried to integrate all of these elements.
Randheli: The sensational bungalows.
Andermatt: All the cosy rooms. It is still big, but very convivial - designed for people to gather together. It is cosy, introvert, and sociable.
When you go to ski, you come back in the evening, on the last gondola, and head straight to the bar for a vin chaud - where you stand and drink - because you feel this cosiness - and Andermatt is designed like this.
Whereas in the Maldives - the area is open, and fresh. There is a certain feel-good about this; the colours are fresh. It is green, dramatic, fun, and it flows.
Randheli: the feeling of flow and the size of the rooms. The private rooms and bungalows are extraordinary, as is the size of the bedrooms.
Andermatt: favourite aspect is the cosiness of the rooms and the public area.
Describe your perfect hotel room, the one you really want to sleep in?
The hotel where you want to sleep is a hotel where you are comfortable with your partner - with someone you love. It is a place where you can resolve any weaknesses. It is a hotel that evolves an environment of love and comfort. It has to comfortable; a place for emotion and togetherness - this is what makes the perfect hotel, and it can be anywhere in the world.
Apart from your own, name three hotels which you feel have been truly innovative architecturally.
Park Hyatt Paris
Huka Lodge, New Zealand (ED: NZ is one of JMG's favourite countries)
Cipriani Venice (ED: this is where JMG married)
What is the next big luxury design trend?
Green, environmentally sensitive design.
A reduction in the size of hotels; we can forget the 400-room hotels and look forward to smaller hotels. These will be more active; the time of doing nothing is gone - due to diet, increased health awareness and a keenness to do something, whether these activities be intellectual or sports-orientated, they are needed in hotels.
What countries/cities resonate most with you?
Country: Bali (also Thailand, Peru)
City: I love New York and I love London. For fun, I like New York more than London - so at 55, I'd say New York. Ask me at 65, I'd say London.
Artists that inspire you?
Botero - because he is happy, generous and colourful. His work is not just a melange of crazy lines that mean nothing. His sculptures and paintings are beautiful.
Equally, I am very fond of Cabellut - a 55 year-old Spanish/Dutch lady.
(JMG also loves Picasso, and all impressionists)
What is your personal design style when you travel?
Casual but smart - I always travel this way, because I am always meeting people, albeit often people that I know, and so I like to be clean and proper.
What three things do you never travel without?
Magazines - I love to read magazines when I travel. When I arrive at the airport I will collect every type of magazine - design, golf, property, cars - I like to know about everything that's going on in the world. I never read books when travelling, only magazines.
You are based in KL. Where would you recommend to eat?
Marini's 57 - it is on the 57th floor of a building adjacent to the twin towers of KL. All good looking people go; it is not stiff, not too casual. Just trendy, and with a good vibe.