A Special Kind of Place: The Lived-in Beauty of Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, UK

There is a house in Northampton Street in Cambridge, England by the name of Kettle’s Yard. It is a special place, a house where virtually every corner is filled with light and beautiful objects. Kettle’s Yard was once the home of Jim Ede and his wife Helen who lived there between 1958 and 1973.  Jim worked as a curator in the Tate Gallery in London and was a friend and patron of a stellar group of artists, including David Jones, Ben Nicholson, Joan Miro, and sculptors Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Henry Moore, Constantin Brancusi, and Barbara Hepworth. Thanks to his friendship with them, he was able to acquire a remarkable collection that now occupies pride of place in Kettle’s Yard.

The couple loved visitors, welcoming them to their house every afternoon. They would serve them tea and toast in the tiny kitchen and Jim would talk to them about art. The couple also loved music, and held impromptu concerts around their grand piano, on which Brancusi’s smooth black Prometheus still weighs heavy. This is no museum; there is no museum guided tours and the art works are neither fenced by ropes nor labelled. Visitors can sit on the settees, enjoy the art, or read art books from the library while soft classical music wafts in the background. It was that kind of place.

After his wife died, Jim left Cambridge but gave the house to the University as an open house for anyone to visit every afternoon just like when was alive. He left everything – pictures on the wall, pebbles and pottery, books on the shelves, and art works – exactly as it was. For him, his house was not merely an art gallery, but an inviting place filled with light, life, and laughter, where “every stray objects, stones, glass, pictures, sculpture, in light and in space … are used to make manifest the underlying stability.” He meant Kettle’s Yard to be a place where visitors can make themselves at home and enjoy every form of beauty around them.

Jim Ede wanted Kettle’s Yard to be a light-filled and calming place. Photo: The Sojourn Series.
To Jim, every flower and pebble counts as art. Photo: The Sojourn Series.
It was central to Jims aesthetic vision that every object is ‘caressed by the light in the same loving way.’ Photo: Kotomi, Flickr.
A dedication to craftsmanship is everywhere in the dining room, from the long table made from one block of American elm to the brass candlesticks from Morocco and the Rockingham plates on the shelf. At the end of the dining area, William’s Istanbul no. 2 in thick, sombre brushwork, is set as the focal point. Photo: Louise Long.
The dancer room, named after Henri Gaudier-Brzeska’s Dancer. Photo: Louise Long
The permanent collection of Kettle’s Yard is housed in the 1970 extension. Photo: Louise Long.
Barbara Hepworth’s Three Personages (1965) sits in the library. Hepworth knew Jim Ede well and was very keen to have one of her works in Kettle’s Yard. Photo: Louise Long.
The art-filled library.
A delightful corner in Kettle’s yard is a round table filled with pebbles arranged in a spiral formation. Beside it is a clam shell. “It is salutary that in a world rocked by greed, misunderstanding and fear … it is still possible .. to find importance in the exact placing of two pebbles.” (Jim Ede)
Jim Ede (1899 – 1995) – the man who saw beauty in everything.

When beauty walks into the room and sits
down close to you and is willing to let you
gaze at her as much as you want,
no one has to tell you

all is right now.

~ Hafiz (Persian poet, 14th century)

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