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Half a million Londoners work from home. That's a lot of people making important business calls in their pants. But is it worth saying au revoir to the office, sayonara to the Central Line and TTFN to the traipse into town, by investing in your own live/work space?
Ravi Singh is owner of Spaced Up, a London-based lettings and estate agency which helps small businesses find property to live and work in under the same roof. 'In the past few years it's really exploded,' he explains. 'Areas that used to be considered unacceptable to live in, like Hackney Wick, are now highly desirable, and luckily for us they're full of warehouses. In the next few years we're expecting previously unthinkable parts of town like Edmonton or Erith to become hotspots. They have loads of ex-industrial buildings and – for now, anyway – insanely low rents.'
Live/work units were once the preserve of artists and musicians, who crave big, versatile, cheap spaces. Lately, though, Ravi has seen a wider range of businesses using his services. 'One-person companies are outgrowing the kitchen table,' he says. 'Design firms, consultancies, agencies. They need a place to welcome clients, in some cases a manufacturing facility. It's cheaper than paying for two properties, and a share of your rent and bills becomes tax-deductible.'
But what about the inability to switch off, and not having anyone to have a bitch at when you slip off for that crafty afternoon fag? Here are three Londoners' views from the live/work coalface…
Kitty Jun-Im is a painter. Her live/work space is in Barnet.
'I moved into my studio 14 years ago. Before that I had a studio in east London and a flat, but this is so much cheaper than paying two rents. It's not just a money thing, though – I like a quiet place without too many other people milling about. There is a community of sorts: six other artists who live around me, and we are all friends. Being near other artists helps me concentrate. It means when I'm working I can focus and develop – do nothing but look at art and think about art. I can be working on a single piece for months sometimes. Some people might get fed up with this, but I love it!
'I like not having to commute, and setting my own timetable. I am very prolific, but I try to keep some regularity; writing emails and doing business in the morning, then painting in the afternoon: sometimes all through the night. I've always liked big warehouses, and when I saw this place I fell in love. Very bright, big windows and on the top floor, so I can see the whole of London. It does get cold in the winter, but what is there to say? If you are complaining, buy a heater!'
The personal trainer
David Kearney is performance director of the Evolution Lab, which offers professional athletes and the general public sports conditioning and nutrition classes. His live/work space is in Hackney Wick.
'In any shared working environment there are frustrations. Somebody else might be using the piece of equipment you want, or there might be limited space. In my line of work – physical fitness – people get self-conscious in a public space. There might be lots of huge bulky guys around. It can be intimidating. Moving into a live/work unit was a huge opportunity for me. The main advantage is no distractions. People can be more relaxed and perform better. "Performance" is a concept that really matters in what we do; it's not just about strength, it's about confidence, accuracy of movement, technique. Because of where we are we can offer a bespoke service, with constant progression and constant learning.
'Most of our equipment is custom-made, which is another big advantage of having it in my home. We use custom Olympic-grade bars, a gymnasium rig and more. I can screw things to the wall, really tailor the space to clients' requirements. We also run nutritional seminars. I designed my own kitchen so I had the worktop facing out into the studio so I could give cookery lessons to supplement training.
'Live/work has realy helped me structure my life; before, my timetable was determined by gym-opening hours. Now clients fit around my schedule. There's no commute, no sitting on the tube. I really enjoy waking up and having instant access to my equipment. We like to keep it personal; I make coffee, we put music on. Most of our clients will come maybe five minutes early, so they get to know each other. When you walk into the space, the first thing you see is my kitchen. It's a home. It's comfortable. How many gyms can say that?'
Luke Scheybeler is founder of design and branding consultancies Scheybeler + Company and Future Classic, and co-founder of Rapha and Tracksmith. His live/work space is in Hackney Wick.
'I've worked in big corporate offices. I think most of them are horrible; the strip lighting, the stress, the smell of cheap coffee and fear. They're not nice places. The genesis of our current business was in the front room of my seventh-floor flat in Kingsland Road. It had really good light and a good view. We did good work there. When the firm expanded we upgraded to a three-storey house in Spitalfields. I lived upstairs, and we had a workspace downstairs. It wasn't ideal; the shower was adjacent to the meeting room, so occasionally I'd have to sneak past clients in a towel.
'There are advantages and disadvantages: live/work spaces blur the line between personal and work life. It can be a real pressure-cooker environment, especially when you're busy. There's barely any incentive to switch modes, so you have to be disciplined. Hackney Wick is lovely, I go running in the Olympic Park every morning. It's fantastic in the autumn light and breeze. If you live and work in the same space you need somewhere you can get out, and not feel trapped.
'There is an economic benefit, but London is always going to be expensive. Moving further out of central London gave us more space. We're surrounded by other creative businesses and artists. We play music a lot: it's an integral part of who we are. One of my designers Tom is obsessed with houseplants and has created a mini-jungle in one corner, which we're building up all the time. It's good to have living things. We're very happy here.'
Live/work space dos and dont's
Real estate expert Tim Dwelly manages specialist live/work property-finder website Live/Work Homes. Here are his dos and don'ts…
DO speak to your potential neighbours. Different complexes have different rules, and if nothing else it's very important when working from home not to isolate yourself.
DON'T get ripped off. Typically, costs should be around 15 percent cheaper than a comparable residential property. That's the point.
DO your homework; Live/Work Homes is a goldmine of information.
DON'T use a high street mortgage lender. Seek specialist advice, and hire an accountant who understands live/work property. It's a bit of a legal maze, and varies across different local authorities.
DO think hard about your privacy. Find a property where the workspace can be accessed by others without them climbing through your bedroom, for instance.
DON'T even think about it if you're not a home worker. Some people try and blag a massive place on the cheap and lie about working there. I've seen people get caught out, and it's not pretty.