Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge is a house I keep on going back to. It boasts a beautiful interior, crammed with stunning art works collected by its original owner, Jim Ede.
If I had to list my top 10 dream homes, this would be one of them. It isn’t grandiose but there’s something about it which oozes informal style and serenity.
It’s the sort of place where I could see myself living, lazing on a comfy sofa with a mug of cappuccino whilst flicking through the gorgeous collection of art books in the library.
Art lover’s dream house
Kettle’s Yard is one of Cambridge’s best-kept secrets, hidden at the back of a main road next to a wooded churchyard with little to suggest what lies within its walls.
From the outside it isn’t showy and looks deceptively small.
As you ring the bell and walk through its tiny doorway, it’s hard to imagine the treasures beyond.
Once inside, you’re in for a big surprise. It’s a house which is hard to compare to any other.
This place is truly unique, the brainchild of Jim Ede who restored the derelict shells of four old houses, transforming them into a home for an art lover.
It’s neither a gallery nor a museum yet houses one of the best modern art collections you’ll see anywhere on the planet.
The reception rooms are small and unpretensious but the presence of a Miro on one wall gives a hint of what’s to come.
The house welcomes you inside as if you’ve arrived for afternoon tea and cakes with its owner.
Everything is as it was when the Edes left the house in the early 1970s, from their collection of art works and books to bowls of carefully arranged pebbles.
The amazing art works are no doubt the envy of many private collectors and galleries.
Jim Ede was the curator of London’s Tate Gallery in the 1920s and 30s although he preferred to describe himself as a “friend of artists”.
While working at the Tate he developed friendships with promising young painters including Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore and David Jones.
Today, it’s the perfect place to glimpse their works which are scattered throughout the house. As you move from room to room, it’s hard not to gasp when you read the inscriptions on the sculptures and paintings.
Was that a Henry Moore I glimpsed in the far corner of the living room?
A small, exquisite Miro painting caught my eye in the sitting room. Jim Ede met the artist in the 1920s and acquired the little painting called ‘Tic Tic’ during a trip to Paris in 1932.
Over in the bathroom (yes, the bathroom) I noticed a Ben Nicholson painting sitting alongside a French landscape by Christopher Wood. Oh to have such works in your house, never mind the loo!
Next to it is one of many gorgeous sculptures by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska whose work Ede had started collecting, amassing one of the largest collections of the artist’s sculptures and drawings in the world.
As you move upstairs, the Gaudier-Brzeskas come thick and fast with works of staggering beauty. They’re some of my favourites in the whole house.
Ede wrote Gaudier-Brzeska’s biography – The Savage Messiah – which was turned into a film by maverick director Ken Russell in the 1960s.
This artistic genius was killed tragically young in the First World War, but not before producing a series of master works.
Following his death, Jim Ede bought many of Gaudier-Brzeska’s works which are displayed to beautiful effect in the house’s living spaces.
There’s even a special attic gallery dedicated to the artist’s sculptures, sketches and drawings. Who else but Ede could have hidden these awesome pieces up in the attic?
Everywhere you look in Kettle’s Yard House, there are surprising works by major modern artists, from Brancusi and Naum Gabo to Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore.
Ede’s art collection was a labour of love and his eye for artistic talent was sharp as a razor. It’s like walking through the galleries at the Tate, but with an informal setting where you can take in the works at your leisure.
Even when Jim and Helen lived in the house in the 1950 and 60s, they’d open it to the public every weekday afternoon. Today – like then – it is a place where people can feel at home and enjoy art in a relaxed atmosphere.
Taking the self-guided tour is like being a child in a sweet shop of great artistic objects. The difference from an art gallery is that you can sit on the chairs, some of which are 300-years-old.
There is art everywhere from portraits and landscapes to sculptures and sketches.
Every nook and cranny is another unexpected treat. Look out for a Henry Moore sculpture casually stuffed under the stairs.
Living the dream
Kettle’s Yard is a house which couldn’t be more different to a Mies van der Rohe or Frank Lloyd Wright architectural creation.
It has a certain ‘lived in’ look’ without the minimalism and stylish austerity of many great modern houses.
Jim Ede wanted to create “a living place where works of art would be enjoyed, inherent to a domestic setting, where young people could be at home, unhampered by the great austerity of the museum or public art gallery”.
The Edes donated the house to the University of Cambridge in 1966, leaving it for good in 1973. What a great gift to the public who can now enjoy its treasures.
A house of contrasts
One of the recurring themes at Kettle’s Yard is the relationship between art and natural objects, light and dark, smooth and textured surfaces.
I love the sense of light and space in the house especially in the lower downstairs music room, one of my favourite areas.
On the Steinway piano sits Russian-born sculptor Naum Gabo’s glorious ‘Construction in Space’, a geometric work that reflects the rhythm of music.
Another recurring motif in the house is circular shapes, from round tables to intersecting curves of stone carvings to the semi-circles of the window designs.
The Bechstein Room with its piano and interplay between light and dark spaces is a great place to chill out before exploring the rest of the upper floor of the house.
The library is another of my favourite rooms with its paintings by Alfred Wallis plus more sensational sculptures by Gaudier-Brzeska including the ravishing ‘Boy with Uplifted Arms’.
You can browse the books, sit here reading for hours or simply relax and enjoy the art as light streams through the skylights.
And there’s a slightly precariously placed Barbara Hepworth sculpture perched at the top of the stairs on a narrow ledge. Now I understand why you have to leave your bags in the cloakroom when you arrive!
Home from home
You have to admire Jim Ede’s brilliant vision. He wanted to create a house in which art could be enjoyed as part of everyday life, where visitors could – in his own words – “find a home and a welcome, a refuge of peace and order”.
That vision extended to the interior design and furnishings in the house.
The Edes were also passionate about found and ‘stray’ objects such as stones, shells, pieces of glass and pebbles which they arranged to beautiful effect throughout the house.
Jim Ede once wrote that he would search for hours looking for the perfect pebbles on beaches and by rivers, discarding all but the best specimens.
He would throw away 10,000 pebbles in his search for perfection of shape and form.
I had thought about copying this idea in my own home but it’s harder than you might think.
Finding perfectly shaped pebbles on a beach is time-consuming and a labour of love. For Ede, pebbles were like sculptures with their perfectly rounded forms and their sense of natural order.
Plants and flowers were also important to the Edes so it’s no surprise that they’re also a prominent feature of Kettle’s Yard House.
Ede was especially interested in variations in the angle and direction of sunlight, throughout the day and different seasons to create ever-changing visual effects.
This can be seen in many of the rooms where there’s an interplay between light, shade and the natural world.
A glass refracting ornament revolves and reflects the plants and flowers in a window area. Watching it change colour and twirl around is mesmerising.
On the walls there are many landscapes which also echo the theme of the natural world whilst the sculptures have flowing, sinuous organic lines too.
The world was the Ede’s oyster – they travelled extensively and this is obvious from many of the exotic objects in the house which sit side-by-side next to the art works.
There are Buddhas and objets d’art from far-flung place. The Edes were keen to showcase treasures from their trips abroad and their time spent in Morocco, USA, and Europe.
Beyond the house
After leaving the house, take a stroll around the churchyard which it overlooks.
Kettle’s Yard House is not very prepossessing from the outside, but its setting is pretty – and reflects Ede’s vision of creating an oasis of peace and escape from the bustling city centre beyond.
Walk across the churchyard and peek into St Peter’s Church which despite its austere interior, has an intriguing history dating back to the 13th Century.
Look out for the font, which together with the north doorway, is one of the few surviving features from the original Norman church.
Around the font’s edges there are four carved mermaids with their twisted braids merging to form a border. It has a certain pagan quality.
But it’s the House and Gallery which are the real stars of a trip to Kettle’s Yard. For anyone who has a passion for art and interior design, Kettle’s Yard House is the perfect treat.
It’s just a shame that it’s not my own personal pad – even though it feels like it could be. It’s definitely on my list of top 10 dream homes!
Tammy’s Guide – Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge
Kettle’s Yard House is located in Cambridge in the east of England. It’s not far from the city centre just off the back of Castle Street.
‘Open house’ is held daily from 12:00 -17:o0 except Mondays. Admission is free. Simply ring the bell and you’ll be shown inside.
Don’t miss the modern gallery – called Kettle’s Yard Gallery – next to the house which holds temporary exhibitions and boasts a small shop. Look out for seasonal classical music in the grounds.
Don’t miss picking up the excellent Kettle’s Yard guide books at the gallery shop before visiting the house. The two brochures provide a brilliant introduction to the art works and the house.
Take your camera. You can take photos inside the Kettle’s Yard House but be prepared to leave your bags in the cloak room.
Kettle’s Yard is within easy walking distance of Cambridge city centre and its tourist attractions and historic colleges.