What do you have to do to earn the title 'patron of the arts? Do you have to be the chairman of a major bank with a stack of allocated seats at Covent Garden? Or commission a symphonic work for your birthday? No. All you need is a passionate interest in art - and a generous heart.

There's a growing band of new patrons in the metropolis who are offering their homes as temporary art galleries, brave souls driven by an eagerness to become involved in the contemporary art scene. The artists tend to be those disenchanted with official gallery system.

'Gone are the days when the gallery was the only way of selling,' says painter Veronica Slater, who has chosen not be attached to a particular gallery. 'A lot of us, including some well-known names, are trying to run our own affairs.' Guests at the shows are drawn from all quarters - friends and patrons of the artists, collectors, curators, critics and the curious.

The new home galleries appear to please even the West End art dealers remain unperturbed: 'Of course, the dealer offers a certain cachet, but I'm sure there's room for everybody,' says John Sankey, secretary general of the Society of London Art Dealers. 'After all, we're all pulling in the same direction.'

Interior designer Maureen O'Donoughue displays great courage in her support of contemporary art. At a recent opening, she flinched not one jot as one visitor, enthusiastically making a point, jabbed at a painting with his glass of

claret. Her white sofa sat just a couple of feet away.

In the first floor drawing room of her Georgian terrace house, huge canvasses are lit by theatre lamps and a couple of small abstract sculptures on the coffee table compete for popularity with the bowl of peanuts. Two musicians lull with mellifluous jazz.

The private view, a mixed show of abstract and figurative, large and small, paintings, drawings and sculpture, produced just one red spot - a firm sale - but there were many promises to return once bank statements and spaces over the mantelpiece have been measured. 'Lots of my regulars

borrow works and live with them for a while - they almost always buy them,' says O'Donoughue.

She likes to show a good range of artists; those who command high prices and those whose work sells for under pounds 100. The most expensive painting she's ever sold went for pounds 6,000.

O'Donoughue is quietly critical of the gallery system that adds hugely to the cost of art with the imposition of commission of up to 60 per cent. She makes a small charge to the artist - but only enough to cover the cost of wine and

buffet food. 'I'm really doing this because I love a party.'

Francis and Denise Booth bought their present house for its walls. 'We had to leave our last flat because we could

hardly get in the door for stacks of canvases,' says Denise. In their converted home, a former Bible-printing works, they now have useful, double-height white expanses stretching into the eaves, but already gaps between paintings are shrinking.

'We thought that by becoming exhibitors we could enjoy the changing work and resist buying, but we've ended up buying more than ever,' says Francis.

The Booths work for IBM by day, he as a sales manager and she as an administrator. Spare time is devoted to contemporary art. They visit open studios regularly to check out new talent. 'Did you know we have more artists here in Hackney than anywhere in else in Europe?'

While Denise prepares for the next show, Francis works on his art history MA, acts as a trustee of Space Studios, sits on the board of RA magazine (for which he also occasionally writes) and is a consultant to Business in the Arts. 'It's hard work, but much more fun than sitting in the pub.'

Prices are between pounds 100 and pounds 2,000 for paintings large and small, abstract or figurative. The Booths take no commission. 'If the artist sells well then we'll accept something towards the postage, invitations and catalogue printing and wine, but there's no pressure,' says Francis. 'We have done extremely well, though. At our first show last summer we sold 22 works, 12 of which went on the first day.'

Francis and Denise's home gallery, called Wet Paint, is also sponsoring a new award at this summer's FreshArt fine art degree fair at Islington's Business Design Centre. The three art graduate winners will be given a year's free studio space and a London exhibition.

In order to take delivery of one large, square canvas, John Gruzelier watched patiently as a team of builders removed, then replaced the living room window of his west London house. 'It was really quite straightforward, and worth the fuss, because so many

people don't believe it's possible to show large work in a domestic setting. I've managed to change a number of minds.' He has since made a note to ask artists of large-scale work to think about folding frames.

Gruzelier, a reader in psychology at Charing Cross and Westminster Medical School, enjoys studying his

visitors and challenging their preconceptions.

'I started the exhibitions just over four years ago with the express intention of demonstrating how all sorts of work - paintings, concrete sculpture, wood carvings - can work in a domestic setting.'

Indeed, the works - often 100 or more - are thickly

plastered across the walls, the stairs, the richly furnished

living room. There are no rules about what is shown, as long as its covers the period from the end of the First World War to the present day. Prices range from pounds 80 to pounds 18,000.

Currently on show is painting, sculpture and installation work by five contemporary Norwegian artists - Kjetil Berge, Berthe Norheim, Goran Ohldilck, Sigrid Szetn and Jan Erik Willgohs.

Bring a bottle.

Where to view home exhibitions

Maureen O'Donoughue, Islington. Her summer exhibition continues until 30 August; please call for opening times (071-837 5856).

John Gruzelier, Kensington (071-603 4540).

Francis and Denise Booth, Hackney. The next Wet Paint show will take place later this summer; please call for details

(071-275 8852).

(Photograph omitted)