Home working is fashionable, flexible, healthy and a costeffective way forward, and developers are responding to demand by bringing forward bespoke new-build schemes that had been put on ice because of the credit crunch (see below).
Architects are coming up with fresh design solutions, such as dedicated work zones, rather than token "study" areas, served by fast broadband technology. Space-saving innovations include foldaway furniture and storage systems as well as sliding walls.
Planners and policy-makers are promoting live/work homes as a community-based "green" answer to global warming. The theory is that live/work clusters can help reverse neighbourhood decline and reduce reliance on polluting- and congestion-causing transport. And as unemployment kicks in and ever-increasing numbers of Londoners go freelance and set up their own small businesses, the demand for live/work homes increases.
Certainly there are cost advantages for self-employed live/workers (no commuting costs or office rent to pay) but for a long time there has been a grey area in the rules for home-based businesses operations that needs clarification.
'Live/work could be a community-based "green" answer to global warming'
If you run a business from home there are two things that a local authority will want to determine: whether you are liable to pay business rates and if the sort of business you propose to operate needs planning permission.
Often local councils turn a blind eye to home-based businesses, provided they do not disturb neighbours. Basically, live/work homes split into two categories.
First, there are apartments and houses that councils have officially designated as live/ work developments. Many of these are lofts in factory and warehouse conversions.
Second, there are conventional new-build homes with no special planning status but which have design features and room layouts that lend themselves to homeworking.
Though live/work has been around for centuries - think Huguenot silk weavers in 17th century Spitalfields - it only really became a social trend in the Sixties, when self-employed creatives such as architects and designers embraced the idea.
It was often an ad hoc arrangement: owners built an extension to the house, moved into the attic or converted a garden shed. However, the dotcom boom of the late Nineties triggered a spate of live/work developments as more people set up shop at home, particularly in the creative strongholds of Shoreditch, Clerkenwell and Southwark.
Some live/work homes are specifically zoned by planners - say, 30 per cent of the space is deemed a work area and 70 per cent a living area. Owners then pay business rates and council tax on a proportionate basis. But other live/work homes are not "predesignated" in this way and it is up to the owner to negotiate with the local council..
The needs of, say, a web designer who uses only a computer are different to those of a photographer who requires most of the space for a studio. Confusingly, some live/work homes are rated 100 per cent residential.
"Government research shows that more than 40 per cent of UK businesses are being run from home, and it is plausible to suggest that in 10 years' time the majority of UK businesses will be based at home," says Tim Dwelly, director of think-tank Live Work Network.
According to Enterprise Nation, a support service for entrepreneurs, many homeworkers don't discuss their method of working with the local authorities in case they incur financial penalties or are shut down. "There does need to be a clearer understanding of who can homework and how the popularity of homeworking increases, which it always does in a downturn," says Dwelly.
Homes where you can work
Courtyard Apartments at West 3, a redevelopment of a former ministry building in Acton, have a separate "work wing" that attracts business rates. Prices are from £420,000. Call Berkeley Homes on 020 8811 2336.
Showpiece live/work homes are for sale at Newhall, near Harlow in Essex. This masterplanned community is being built on 200 acres of former farmland and will have 2,800 homes when complete. The development has scooped several design awards for its varied architecture, a mix of contemporary design and rural house types.
These include four-storey houses with a detached rear annex and its own front door, ideal for a home business that has clients visiting. Many of the homes have penthouse-like qualities with double-height space, spiral staircases and extensive glazing. Prices at North Chase, the latest phase, start at £325,000. Call 012799 416660.
While creating flexible interiors and a suitable demarcation between live and work areas, developers are also focusing on fibreoptic technology to make life easier for homeworkers who want office-standard communications such as video conferencing.
Homes at Springhead Park in Ebbsfleet have the fastest download speeds - 100 megabytes a second - available to any homes in the UK. The initiative is a collaboration between Countryside Properties and BT and aims to consolidate the new business hub around the Eurostar station. Apartments cost from £93,750. Call 01474 335195.
At the giant Wembley City, where 4,200 homes are planned, developer Quintain has teamed up with telecoms operator Velocity to provide a similar service. Apartments at Forum House, the first phase of 286 flats, start at £140,000 for a studio, and £225,000 for a one-bedroom flat. Call 0845 201 1205.
Authentic factory lofts are the most sought-after live/work homes, says Carl Schmid of Shoreditch estate agent Fyfe Mcdade (020 7613 4044). "Normally they have high ceilings, big windows and cutting-edge interior design."
Split-level living and working
SoDa Studios is an eye-catching development of 46 live/work apartments off Kingsland Road, Hackney.
The location is less than a minute's walk from the new Haggerston station being built as part of the East London line extension, due to open next year.
Apartments range from 750sq ft to 1,300sq ft and most are split-level, with the work area on the lower floor and the living section on the upper floor.
The Art Deco-inspired architecture features penthouses with "sun boxes" – terraces that cantilever out from the building and have views of the Square Mile.
Apartments typically have a 70/30 live/work split. Prices start at £350,000 and completion is due in late summer. For more information, call 020 7288 0330.
THE BEST OF ALL WORLDS
As long as you chose a commuter friendly train link to London, homeworking allows you to enjoy the best of both worlds — you can live among rolling fields, enjoying a tranquil rural setting and be in London in just over an hour for a meeting. But rolling hills and countryside can be isolating if you are used to the stimulus of a community and a busy office life.
One developer has solved the problem. Sunley, a builder with a reputation for "country cool" homes, has come up with a solution at Marshfield, near historic and buzzy Bath in Somerset. It has developed a scheme of 17 new-build, barn-style homes specifically designed as a live/work community - so if your computer breaks down you can share your problem with a like-minded neighbour.
'Owners will not just be neighbours, they may end up working together'
Each home incorporates a work zone and there are also "remote" workspaces in separate barns across the courtyard. Owners obtain a lease on the remote workspace when they buy one of the properties but it cannot be sold off separately.
"They are genuine live/work homes, ideal for people running a professional services business, such as architects or accountants, or creative people such as potters or sculptors, says Ben Lockwood of estate agent Davis Meade. "It will be a proper little community; owners will not just be neighbours, they are likely to have overlapping business interests and may end up working together and exchanging ideas and projects."
The barns are set in 1.6 acres of landscaped gardens and overlook open countryside.
Bath, with all the advantages of a stimulating university town and shopping centre, is about eight miles away, plus there is quick access to the M4, meaning that commuter day trips to the capital for business meetings are possible.
Houses range from approximately 1,000 to 2,000sq ft and have up to four bedrooms. Prices start at £295,000. Call 01225 891033.