Creating that first impression - how graphic artist Cheryl Poindexter converted her home

Creating that first impression - how graphic artist Cheryl Poindexter converted her homeUNLIKE MANY SMALL-BUSINESS OWNERS, CHERYL Poindexter doesn't conceal her office in a back room or in a comer of the garage. From the moment this graphic artist opens the front door to her Studio City, California, home, she's promoting her company--by subtly displaying her design work. But the showcasing of her talents doesn't stop there.

This entrepreneur has devoted more than 80 percent of her three- level house to work space for Poindexter Design Inc., a 26-year-old company that produces advertising posters, packaging, and magazine creatives. For Poindexter, her best business alley is her own abode, serving more as a sprawling showroom and studio than living quarters.

"I always keep my place professional-looking by showcasing what I've accomplished. Clients are very impressed by that," says Poindexter, whose company hit $750,000 in revenues last year practicing such tactics.

In 1991, sensing the effects of the recession and the industry's shift toward downsized projects, she slashed overhead by relocating her operations from a 5,000-square-foot commercial space in Hollywood to this newly constructed home. To her upscale clients, the change has been for the better. "At one time, it was important to have a presence on Sunset Boulevard," she says. "But today people don't care where you're headquartered--as long as you produce superior work." And now, with a drafting table and tools only yards away, Poindexter has gained an edge over her competitors who must still fight the L.A. freeways each day. Dazzle 'Em With Displays Although most personal effects are banished from sight, her interior design is anything but cold. "What you need to do is create a space that has credibility," Poindexter advises. Hanging on several walls near the front hallway, for instance, are her ad campaigns for such clients as Twentieth Century Fox, CBS, and MGM/UA. They add warmth and texture to an otherwise stark space.

"What my clients see," says Poindexter, "is exactly what they're going to get."

Entering her home, you find yourself in what at first appears to be a dining room. But soon you discover that the space can quickly convert into a conference area. Here, again, the decor speaks volumes for the business. On one wall, Poindexter-produced packaging for See's Candies is exhibited on a recessed bookshelf. Even the china cabinet, stripped of the usual silverware, napkin rings, and chafing dishes, is lined with graphic design samples for use at meetings. On any given day, half a dozen potential account execs may convene in this room, so her portfolio is always nearby.

"When I'm talking to clients and they mention a certain look, I just reach over and pull out my materials from the china cabinet. They like that I don't have to scurry around to find something,, she says.

Poindexter has chosen a minimalist design style throughout the house--overstuffed contemporary couches and chairs set against off- white carpeting and walls. In the living room, for example, a breathtaking view of the San Fernando Valley acts as counterpoint to the Poindexter-designed posters dominating the environment. Illuminated by light streaming in from 40-foot, ceiling-high windows, her ad campaigns for Romancing the Stone, Jewel of the Nile, and Scarface add color to the space, which also doubles as a video screening area. It's furnished primarily with equipment, such as a 70-inch TV and video copy processor, helping Poindexter and account executives from TriStar Pictures, Hanna-Barbera, and Twentieth Century Fox discuss the marketing of films under production. "Clients like coming in here because it's a relaxing room with lots of views," she adds.

Built for Speed and Efficiency The heart of Poindexter Design lies on the lower level. Opposite the front door, a staircase descends to the humming network of three offices below. Off the main corridor, one room is used for long-term storage, one serves as the headquarters for the company's business manager, and in the northwest comer, the remaining space is Poindexter's office. All three as well as the garage are connected by an elaborate intercom system, further increasing efficiency.

Poindexter's 15-by-11-foot work space is the creativity center. The well-organized room, littered only by design samples on a corkboard, is anchored by an oversize flat-file cabinet on one side and a white enamel workstation on the other. A pair of drafting tables--one housing her computer, the other used by an occasional freelancer--are built into the modular furniture, butting beneath huge wraparound windows. "All the light that comes in here is conducive to my creativity," insists Poindexter, who keeps most of the windows in her home uncovered to exploit the sunlight and rugged canyon view.

Besides attending to workplace productivity, however, Poindexter has spared no cost on technology. In her office and throughout the lower level, all walk-in closet doors have been removed to accommodate bulky office equipment, ranging from color copiers and printers to fax machines and scanners. Even in the hallway, a spare copier is available when working on deadline.

"In my business," she cautious, "everyone wants everything overnight. I can't afford to stand in line and wait for service."

So, just a few steps away on the third level, Poindexter built a darkroom to create camera-ready artwork in a pinch. "One client, in particular, waits until the last minute, then expects to have a 52- page program produced in a week. I need all this stuff in-house to get my jobs out fast. Time becomes very valuable to me."

Poindexter admits, though, that relocating a business her size into the home might not have been possible 10 years ago. "Since I've moved here, I've found that the 1990s are more about memory and speed. So I built a work space that's all about presentation, organization, and easy access--from computer to hard copy to client," she explains.

Utilizing All Available Space

Even Poindexter's garage is set up for business use; one-third of it is partitioned off for occasional freelance designers. A 20-foot workstation and two drafting boards are available for marathon work sessions, some lasting into the wee hours of the morning.

For additional long-term storage, she installed another room beneath the rafters in the garage. In this well-lit, A-frameshaped area, Poindexter has meticulously organized and labeled completed job folders, design samples, and old tax records into a set of hanging shelves. The time she saves hunting for old paperwork is now spent designing.

"It's always been hard for me to separate my work from my life," she admits, "so I've given up. There's absolutely no reason why the two can't blend together--because my creative juices never stop. I just need to surround myself with the fruits of my labor to stay motivated."

Poindexter Design Inc., Studio City, California

TYPE OF BUSINESS: A graphic design company

OWNER: Cheryl Poindexter

EQUIPMENT: Macintosh IIci computer, Macintosh Centris 610 computer, Apple LaserWriter II printer, Optima Syquest 44 tape backup, Bernoulli Omega 150 Multidisk backup drive, Umax UC630 scanner, Murata M 1850 fax machine, Canon CJ10 color copier, Canon NP 9030 laser copier, Minolta two-color copier, Mitsubishi P60U video copy processor, Mitsubishi rear-screen TV, Agfa-Gevaert Repromaster 3000 stat camera SOFTWARE: Adobe Photoshop, Aldus PageMaker, Aldus FreeHand. Adobe Illustrator, Microsoft Word, QuarkXPress DESIGN MISSION: To create a professional work space throughout the entire house by showcasing her graphic design accomplishments.

R. DANIEL FOSTER, a writer and UCLA journalism prolessor. covers the real estate beat for The Los Angeles Times and contributes regularly to the Harvard Business Review.