When Gidi Cohen, founder and CEO of CGI strategies in Real Estate (CGI), purchased actor Ryan Phillippe’s former residence on Rising Glen Road, he was already poised to redesign and sell the home. Two years later, the modern architectural is the latest spec home represented by The Agency, boasting soaring interiors, large-scale entertaining, and a 75’ long pool. No stranger to unlocking a property’s potential, Gidi can recognize a gem when he sees it. Last summer, his firm acquired the famed Villa Carlotta in Hollywood, a landmark apartment house where many a luminary have slept under its terra cotta-tiled roof. Beyond the golden state, Gidi’s properties span from New York to Florida to Atlanta, making him a national force in the commercial real estate industry with over twenty years of experience. We sat down with the busy man to discuss good vs. bad bones, “bleisure” and why CGI is not a brand.
You completely rebuilt Rising Glen, former home of actor Ryan Phillippe. What was it about the original structure that didn’t agree with you?
The layout of the home was poorly designed and difficult to navigate. The orientation of the rooms, for instance, didn’t relate to one another, making one feel trapped in a maze of boxes. We completely reoriented the structure, opening up the individual spaces without sacrificing privacy, and bringing much needed light into the home. Now, it feels like an explosion of sunshine. In retrospect, Rising Glen also came with several rarities for a property in the hills—ample square footage, parking, seclusion, curb appeal, 260 degree view down the canyon into the city of Los Angeles—which we used to our advantage.
How did your team turn it around?
This was certainly a challenging project, both from a design and a construction perspective. We give credit to our excellent partners, Max Fowles and Tomer Levi, who understood the vision and passion that we had towards the property, applying incredible attention to detail. Our intention was to rebuild in a logical manner, giving all the main rooms in the house full-city views and creating a sensible flow and luxurious feel throughout.
Thoughtful renovations, as opposed to complete teardowns, are very in vogue in Los Angeles. Do you think there’s a responsibility on the part of the developer to honor the past in this way?
Yes, we are huge supporters of preserving the past; however, not everything from the past was built or designed to be preserved. Sometimes the past has to make way for the present. In this case, we preserved much of the footprint of the building, including the swimming pool and some of the exterior walls, while incorporating our own elements to convey confidence and majesty. Consider the 15-foot floor-to-ceiling moveable window walls—now that makes a statement. This is a home for the future, one that will undoubtedly be preserved.
And how did you feel upon walking into the historic Villa Carlotta?
We felt sad, sad because she had lost her glory, yet immediately attracted to the potential to restore her. At CGI, we refer to it as “good bones, bad bones,” and Villa Carlotta had great bones—they were just tired. As our eyes met the battered beams overhead, they also noticed the high ceilings and voluminous windows and doors, perfect for inviting views and light inside. Villa Carlotta was easy to fall in love with, and it’s a privilege to own and have the opportunity to return her to her former glory for the community to once again enjoy.
Charlie Chaplin, Marion Davies, Jim Morrison…they have all played a part in Villa Carlotta’s colorful past. How will you continue to tell the story?
Although the current residents may not have billboard names, they are just as colorful. We hope that these individuals will remain as ambassadors for Villa Carlotta long into the future so that we can help tell their stories of how the building influenced their creative genius. As for the past 100 years, well, that story is not for us to tell…it’s already here. We just need to unfold it, let it shine and create an environment where people staying today can respect that history and enjoy it to the fullest.
Your acquisitions range from a hotel (Two Bunch Palms) in Palm Springs, residential and retail spaces in Atlanta and apartments in Florida. What are the consistencies across your work?
I would say quality and dedication are the consistencies in our work. Everything that we undertake, we do so with a purpose and vitality, adopting the view that we are the stewards of the property’s destination. It’s always the individual building—not a brand—that defines our product and us as a company, so we aim to serve the purpose for which it was built, the surrounding community, and the people who put their trust in us to protect their hard earned savings. We also need to feel passionate about the intangibles. If we are able to detect good energy and functionality then so, too, will anyone who walks through its doors.
The residential arm of real estate and the hospitality arm of real estate have traditionally operated independent of one another, wouldn’t you agree?
Yes. Historically, they have been seen as different segments of real estate. But today, the consumer, traveler, and business person are more apt to transplant for longer periods of time in a community outside their realm in order to accomplish an objective, set up business, or work on a project. Our aim is to bring a feeling of familiarity to the person who is new to the area so that they can achieve what it is that drives them. If we can make their surroundings harmonious with their lifestyle, they will perform better and have a sharpened sense of self.
What do you end up with?
Bleisure: the marriage of business with leisure. For avid travelers like myself, who often stay for weeks or months at a time, we want to be able to retreat to a place that feels like home, and we don’t want to check in and out of a hotel. A place that’s comfortable, with semi-concierge services, yet where we can still cook ourselves eggs in the morning.
And how do you like your eggs?