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Production Designer Gary Kordan And Wife Photographer Justine Ungaro Go Retro With Muse

Muse can easily transform from a performance space for musicians, a pop-up shop for designers, or a classroom/workshop area, as featured in this photo. Photo credit: Justine Ungaro

By: Marjorie Galas

From his Emmy nominated work on “Key and Peele” to the fantastical worlds of Amazon’s young adult hit “Just Add Magic”, production designer Gary Kordan gets behind projects 100%.  Before he lands a job, he’ll spend days researching content, often crafting up to sixteen mood boards loaded with images for first meeting discussions.  To land the pilot of the current Fox comedy “Ghosted”, Kordan fabricated a back story for the show’s secret government office, pulling images of the NASA’s graphic style, early 60s Craftsman furniture, wood grain samples and old doctor’s offices and newsrooms he compiled to explore his concept of an outdated, under-funded facility.

“It was a risk; they may have seen the world in a Technicolor palette,” said Kordan.  “But my gut told me they’d be familiar with my look when they called me in.”

A year ago, Kordan brought his fastidious dedication and penchant for risk-taking to an entirely new project.  Partnering with his wife, photographer Justine Ungaro, they established a multi-purpose creative space in Studio City.  The idea surfaced when Ungaro considered expanding her photography studio, located across from CBS Studio, into a storefront that had vacated next door. She pitched the idea to Kordan and the groundwork was laid for what would gradually evolve into a brand new business.   They snatched up the 800 square foot space before another retailer could wrangle it.  Together they embarked on finessing the vibe of their new venture: a community space for creatives called Muse.

Inspired by the location of their earliest artistic development: a middle school art classroom, Ungaro designed and oversaw renovations to create a loft space with a Scandinavian and mid-century aesthetic.  Dark wood beams accent muted pastels, and vintage equipment, including a pink refrigerator and Ungaro’s collection of vintage radios, dot the bright, open space.  The simple furniture is easily re-arranged to accommodate the needs of any event.  Past activities have ranged from classes including “The Art of Paper Flowers” and “Weaving for Beginners” to pop up shop for emerging clothing designers, including Project Runway contestant Melissa Fies.  A music and performance enthusiast, Kordan also installed a sound system, enabling the space to be converted into a concert venue.  Musicians ranging from acoustic singer Lisa Loeb to alt-rockers Letters to Cleo have presented sold-out events at Muse.  Most recently, Muse housed benefit events aiding the Hurricane victims in Texas and Puerto Rico.

As the word grew about the multi-use space, so did demand. Within the course of the year, Muse was regularly booked with a mix of private and public events.  Although overseeing the needs of a growing business adds extra pressure on the couples very full agenda, they’ve embraced the extra workload.  For Kordan, Muse not only instills an excitement into his routine and provides challenges that constantly stimulate him, but providing a shareable space for his community fuels him with an adrenaline he equates to jumping out of a plane.  It also fulfills one of his earliest childhood fantasies.

“I used to imagine one day owning a record store or a club like Catch a Rising Star,” said Kordan.  “We have a stage, a mike, and we’re booking events.  It’s a dream come true.”