Working from home is an ideal that many of us, tired of the office rat race, aspire to. Running your own business out of an attic, a handy outbuilding or a spare bedroom can be better than the mind-numbing commute on the 7.25am bus or train. But as Gina Vedrickas discovers, a few individuals take things a bit further.

Seeing 300 people trot through his former bedroom one day did make Steve Wright stop and think: "Oh God, what have I done?" Luckily, it is no longer his bedroom. Wright, a designer, has turned part of his residential Victorian terrace into a shop.

It is possible to walk down his south London street and not notice his house. But you would have to be en route to the opticians to miss the Gaudiesque mosaic path leading to the shop's entrance. Follow the path and it takes you into a shrine devoted to eclectic objects for the more catholic consumer. Wright, whose shop is named after him, sits behind his mirrored counter, amid a riot of fantastic pieces including a life- size golden Buddha, and declares, "I'm sick of minimalism, aren't you?"

Although he considered a high street location, Mr Wright believed a shop inside his home, in SE22, would get more attention. So far he's right. Visitors pour in to marvel at the work of more than 40 designers and they also get to peep into his workshop, where he designs an array of objects from mirrors to rugs. Spying a rare couple of inches of wall space, his eyes gleam. "I think I've got some hats I could put there." Is he afraid that his modest home could be overrun with curious visitors? "It is a worry but it's worth it."

The door leading to the rest of his house is, however, firmly bolted. "People are nosy and maybe that's why they like coming here," says Mr Wright, who is keen to embrace as diverse a selection of customers as possible. "When you start adapting your home for the public it's hard to know when to stop. I'm planning a temple in the garden now."

If Mr Wright's visitors are as eclectic as the objects they've come to view, Jayne Barrett's are a more defined breed. "You've got to be at least three months pregnant to cross my threshold," she says. She does hire a hall for some active birth classes but mostly teaches at home from a disused dining room now devoted to birth preparation.

Cushions replace chairs and the Encyclopaedia of Pregnancy and Childbirth nestles beside a doll's head poking through a plastic pelvis. Ms Barrett believes sacrificing her personal space is worthwhile as women prefer classes at her home. "They're much more able to relax and they appreciate extras like quilted toilet paper. When they see my home they like me more."

Neighbours are used to the strains of 20 women humming as they practise breathing and stretching techniques and their only complaint is about parking problems caused by the flow of visitors.

Some neighbours are not so open- minded. Steve Isaacson, Lewisham's assistant planning officer, warns that complaints can scupper planning applications. "We've just refused permission to an aromatherapist based in a flat as neighbours were worried both about their communal areas and the massage parlour element."

Fortunately for the faint-hearted, Ms Barrett's house is not overlooked, as the sight of heavily pregnant women in tadasana poses could be startling.

The end results of her classes could well find themselves visiting Heather Benyayer. Her windows, covered in fireworks paintings, divulge her home's use as a Montessori nursery.

"When I started I had no idea how it would grow," Ms Benyayer explains. So why choose to have your home invaded? "I thought it easier not to have overheads. I didn't have the nerve to go straight off and find somewhere, and in my line of business I felt that a lot of people wanted their nursery to be within a home environment."

From starting with just a few items, mostly her own children's toys, she now has masses of equipment, five members of staff and 40 children.

She has made serious adaptations to her home. "From day one the council had to make sure there were no safety hazards. Now I've expanded upstairs there's lots more; full fire alarms, emergency lighting, the whole works." Ms Benyayer admits that working from home has affected her long-suffering family. "A lot of partners would probably have walked out," she says. "My life changed overnight with the stress of worrying about things being tidy."

Home workers have to learn to cope with that disruption and deal with ambiguous feelings about their living, and working, space. Ms Benyayer says: "I lost all interest in interior design and gardening. We had to get rid of a lot of furniture and rip everything out of the garden in case it was poisonous. I didn't see it as a home any more."

As the nursery expanded, living space became tighter. "The living room went first, then the kitchen." With three boys squashed into one bedroom, pressure mounted. Finally, she says: "For my sanity we decided we either had to move the nursery or move out ourselves and it was easier for us to go. I'm a lot happier now."

Before starting a business at home:

Speak to your lender immediately. If you are using more than 40 per cent of your home for business they may insist on a commercial mortgage, often 2 per cent above standard rates, and you could lose tax relief.

Talk to your local council. There may be planning implications and you could need a licence for some types of business.

Notify your insurers. There is no standard cover but each case is considered on its own merits.

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