A Diamond in the Rough

A ragtag property gets a modern makeover by a real estate developer who never says never.

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Story by Sarah Ruppenthal | Photos by Sara Cort

Kihei home renovation
Three years ago, Gal Cohen was the only bidder for this foreclosed Kīhei property. He was also the only one to see its potential.

It was a house that no one wanted to buy. No one but Gal Cohen, that is.

Kihei luxury home
Despite the home’s modest footprint, the redesigned interior feels open and expansive, with seamless transitions from room to room, and from indoors out.

Gal is a real-estate developer. When he spotted a legal notice for a foreclosed Kīhei property three years ago, he knew he’d found his next project. “I drove by to check it out, and as soon as I saw it, I said: ‘This is the one.’” It wasn’t much to look at. With a depressing exterior and a derelict yard to match, the ramshackle three-bedroom house had clearly seen better days. And it was more than an eyesore — it was also the neighborhood blight. For years, police had routinely visited the residence in response to neighbors’ complaints about noise, drugs and crime.

But Gal saw something no one else did: potential. “He has a gift for identifying what others can’t see,” says his partner, Chelsea Dimin. “It’s his passion.” After purchasing the property at auction (he was the lone bidder), Gal set out to turn the dilapidated house into a dream home. For anyone else, it might have been a daunting task, but Gal has been performing makeover miracles for years. When he looks at a worse-for-the-wear property, he sees not just an investment, but also an enticing challenge. “It’s an opportunity to be creative,” he explains. It’s also an opportunity to express his appreciation for clean lines, natural elements, and Polynesian design.

maui designer bedroom
The Avi Kiriaty painting in the master bedroom speaks of a kindred spirit. Like Kiriaty, Gal is Israeli — and an artist. At right, a floating dresser maximizes floor space.

Gal moved to Maui from Israel at the age of nineteen to windsurf. He took a job as a landscaper, discovered he had a knack for it, and started his own landscaping company a few years later. In 2010, he bought his first home in Ha‘ikū, and it was a fixer-upper in every sense of the word. “It was a good deal,” he says, “but it was a total mess. It took me a month just to clear out all of the junk.” With no construction experience, Gal taught himself the fundamentals of home renovation through YouTube videos and how-to books. Clearly, he was a quick study: Four months later, the renovation was so impressive that he received several requests to remodel other houses.

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