A Day in the Life of ACME Studio

This month Designer Dailies travels to Maui for a day in the life of Lesley Bailey and Adrian Olabuenaga, the founders of ACME Studio. This product design company, which the couple founded in Los Angeles in 1985, creates writing instruments, stationery accessories, watches, men’s silk ties, and more. Let’s see how they live and work.


Lesley: I awake to yet another shitty day in Paradise with the sunrise painting yet another beautiful sky.


Lesley: As I get ready for my day, Buddy (our dog) is up as soon he hears me put on my bracelets. Then it is downstairs and outside to a wonderful crisp morning. Buddy does his business while I water one of our many veggie gardens. I pick any fresh green veggies we have to make Adrian’s and my morning ‘Green Juice.’  It doesn’t get any fresher than this! As I prepare our green juice, I wonder how many glasses of this we have drank in the past few years.


Lesley: I feed Buddy and Puma, the cat.


Lesley: Breakfast today was very easy. We had crepes (with all that good juice, got to be a little bad). Our china and flatware was designed by Ettore Sottsass, which makes any meal taste better. Cannot start the day without a shot of Nespresso. I clean up and it’s out the door where my chariot awaits.


Adrian: When we are done with breakfast, our commute to the studio every morning consists of a one minute ride in our solar powered golf cart, from the bottom of the property where the house is, to the top of the property.

Lesley: Riding in our golf cart in the mornings always brings a smile to my face.


Lesley: After our long commute, we arrive at the studio. As always, Adrian opens the door for me (he’s such a gentleman), and another work day starts. I have butterflies in my stomach as I always do, as I wonder, ‘What will today bring?’


Adrian: Off to my office thru yet another red door, passing pictures of just some of the designers we have worked with, which is great inspiration for my day ahead.

Lesley: I head to my office to put my things away and open my computer. Then it is off to Adrian’s office.


Lesley: Each morning in the office, we start our day with a sit-down in Adrian’s office to plan our day, week, month…. and go over projects. This morning we received a new limited edition glass design for our review that we did for Ritzenhoff (looks good and we approved it). We don’t just design for ACME, we design for others too.


Lesley: Each morning I also sit down with Emma and Gina in my office to go over customers’ requests, orders, and anything else that has come up since the previous morning’s meeting. Today we are discussing and wrapping up the NYIGF and also planning the next one which will be in August. Organizing new release samples for our distributors (worldwide), showrooms (US only), and road reps. Plus strategizing how to keep everyone more informed when we come out with new items. This is one of many meetings I have throughout my day with our different departments.


Stylized shot of Traditional, designed by tattoo artist Paul Timman. We introduced it at the New York International Gift Fair® (NYIGF) in January.


Adrian: Since we are continuously receiving designs from many of our designers, all of which require development and detailed drawings with instructions for our factories, I meet with my “right-hand,” Greg Spenser, several times a day. Here we are going over one of several ads we did for ACME’s distributor in Mexico.


Lesley: Then it is off home for lunch (yes, in the golf cart).  As you can see by the picture here it takes us a while to get started, as there is always much to discuss, like what do we want to eat for lunch today?


Lesley: While I prepare lunch Adrian looks out at yet another rainbow. Rainbows are prolific on Maui, and with every three-square-miles having a different eco-system, the weather changes quickly.


Adrian: Before we moved to Maui about 25 years ago, while we were still living in LA, I used to design and produce one-of-a-kind ArtRadios that were sold from our gallery on Melrose Avenue. They were quickly scooped up by design collectors as well as celebs like Carrie Fisher (she got 3), Billy Idol, Sylvester Stallone, and others. About a year ago, one of these collectors let me know that he sold his radio for $8,500 for one he had paid $1,500 in 1985. So a few months ago, our workshop was reconfigured and I have started making them again, but this time with 25 more years of designing experience and a much better shop to do things that weren’t possible back then. During the initial process, I had a student from The School at the Art Institute of Chicago come for a few weeks as an apprentice. I used to make these one at a time, but this time I’m doing 36 all at one time. I had no idea what I was getting into and it’s taking longer than expected, but six already pre-sold, sight unseen.


Lesley: One of the things I always try to do each day is never to miss a sunset. Why would we want to miss even one, when we have the most wonderful sunsets? It truly is the most wonderful way to unwind at the end of the day.

Adrian: Unless we are traveling or it’s raining or very foggy, it’s a very rare occurrence for us to ever miss a Maui sunset. It’s a really nice way for us to unwind from the day with a glass of wine.


Lesley:  Though I love to cook, at least once a week Adrian and I go out for dinner at our favorite local restaurant Hali’imaile General Store. Tonight was a perfect night to hang out with our best friend and owner, Bev Gannon.


Adrian:  I have salmon. The perfect meal!

Lesley: No picture of my food, but then mine is always a surprise, as Bev always has the kitchen make me something special. Tonight was enchiladas (vegetarian style) with chipotle cream; delicious, as always.


Lesley: As we arrive home after another perfect day on Maui, the house is lit up like a little jewel against the Maui night sky. Adrian heads off to his study to continue his day designing and sketching into the night. I finish my day by relaxing with a good book. Good night and thanks for joining us for a day on Maui!!

Marni Elyse Katz is a Contributing Editor at Design Milk. She lives in Boston where she contributes regularly to local publications and writes her own interior design blog, StyleCarrot.