Art-world doyenne Maureen Paley pioneered the trend in the Eighties with her London space Interim. The early Nineties saw the setting up of "artists' spaces", where art is both made and sold, often at more affordable prices. Dealers swiftly followed suit, notably hostess Jibby Beane, who set up shop from home. Now, in London alone, Danielle Arnaud, Dominic Berning, Prue O'Day, Michael Wilson (who runs Bobo's) and Mary Jane Alderen (of Nylon) show art chez eux. And it's not just a London phenomenon: in Edinburgh, Richard Ingleby, dealer and art critic for the Independent, has turned his elegant Georgian townhouse into a successful gallery. A name has even been coined for them: "new deal galleries". Unlike conventional galleries, these don't bind artists to exclusive contracts forbidding them from showing elsewhere in exchange for a fixed annual salary and promotion of their work.
Danielle Arnaud, in Kennington, south London, is a particularly homely new deal space: just call round (no need to ring ahead) and diminutive French proprietaire Arnaud ushers you in with the offer of tea, coffee or kir, no less. The atmosphere is casual - you don't feel any pressure to buy. Venture beyond the hallway painted in Le Corbusier white - her one concession to gallery etiquette - and duck-egg, maize-yellow and baize- green walls provide a living-room backdrop to an eclectic array of paintings.
"I'd wanted to open a gallery for years, and doing so at home, where I could also look after my kids, seemed logical," she says. It's a venture which involves the whole family: teenage daughter Raphaelle earns pocket money doing secretarial work on the family computer and husband Nicholas looks after the gallery's website.
Such is Arnaud's dislike for a coldly ship-shape decor that the work she shows is allowed to invade her bathroom and kitchen and guests can wander unescorted. The chief charm of this arrangement, she feels, is that seeing art in a domestic setting helps people to visualise how it will look in their own home. Some buyers, she says, even paint the wall where they hang their new artwork the same shade as the gallery wall they first saw it on.
Edinburgh's Richard Ingleby agrees: "It helps to remove art from the harsh white-cube environment of many contemporary galleries. We once had a Howard Hodgkin show. He's a big name, but it was the first time people had seen his work in a `liveable' way." Even so, Ingleby's gallery, which occupies two ground-floor rooms, looks more sober, less obviously domestic than Arnaud's. It is decorated with plain oak antique furniture, whose simplicity, he feels, complements contemporary art. An oak refectory table, for example, serves as his desk. The house's high ceilings, meanwhile, accommodate the tall sculptures and installations Ingleby shows.
In Arnaud's home, furnishings and lighting are defiantly domestic: an art deco dining table, a fleamarket find, acts as a desk, and ordinary lamps illuminate the art. As such, she has few overheads, and her artists aren't under exclusive contracts. Still, she admits she doesn't stand to make a fortune. In contrast to the 50 per cent commission demanded by regular galleries, Arnaud takes 30 per cent. And, priced from pounds 50 to pounds 4,000, the art is relatively inexpensive.
Purists, she admits, criticise her for her informality, which they consider amateurish. Art should be lit by even lighting, not by daylight and ordinary lamps by night. Then there are those heretical coloured walls. "I tormented myself for months about whether to paint the place white," she says. "But I love colour, and it's a challenge to hang paintings on coloured walls. It certainly doesn't seem to put off the buyers."
Danielle Arnaud, 123 Kennington Rd, London SE11 (0171 735 8292); Richard Ingleby, 6 Carlton Terrace, Edinburgh (0131 556 4441).
! When house-hunting, be clear about what kind of art you intend to show. Don't buy, or rent, a terraced house if you want to show installations and sculptures, as these demand large, flexible spaces.
! Make sure you can get permission from your local authority to change a domestic place to a part-domestic, part-commercial space. In some areas you can't do this.
! Tell your neighbours about your plans - more a matter of courtesy than anything as they are unlikely to object.
! Keep a few rooms private. Just as dealers need privacy, so punters may not like domesticity (cooking smells etc) shoved down their throats.
! Insurance is relatively cheap. Try specialist London-based art insurers Hiscox (0171 448 6200).
! Publicity is vital. Contact the press and draw up a mailing list.Reuse content