The lived-in beauty of Kettle's Yard

The lived-in beauty of Kettle's Yard

Words and Photographs Louise Long

As summer comes to the newly opened Kettle’s Yard we visit this unique home for a tour around the rooms and amongst the exquisite works of art…

Following two years of closure, a unique collection of art and objects has reopened to the public. Home of the late Jim and Helen Ede, Kettle’s Yard embodies a unique outlook on a traditional art display by being ‘neither an art gallery nor museum… nor… simply a collection of works of art.’ At its core, Kettle’s Yard represents a way of life where stray objects are unified amongst masterpieces, and every detail has a story to tell.

As Curator at the Tate Gallery, London in the 1920s and 1930s, Jim Ede lay the foundations of his lifelong friendships with artists and makers, though his collecting tendencies had been established in childhood. Over five decades, the Edes garnered a remarkable collection – from paintings by rising artists of the likes of Nicholson and Miro, sculptures by Hepworth and Brancusi, as well as rare pieces of furniture, ceramics, glassware and natural objects. Eventually, all of their collected items found their place within the series of extended cottages which the Edes made their home in the 1960s. On retiring to Edinburgh in 1966, the couple gifted the house and its contents to the University of Cambridge, preserving the unique domesticity and integrity of its arrangement. Today, the permanent collection is adjoined by a set of contemporary galleries, with their own vibrant exhibitions programme. Kettle’s Yard is a reawakened treasure trove: the continuing evocation of a man’s life, philosophy, compassion, and refined sense of aesthetic.


In the heart of Kettle’s Yard, Jim Ede’s bedroom, the first greeting of a morning arises from paired works by Alfred Wallis; maritime subjects painted from memory of Mount’s Bay, Cornwall. A pair of ivory hair brushes, belonging originally to B. R. Haydon, a Royal Academician and friend of Keats. When the Edes retired to Edinburgh in 1966, the brushes went too, but it was not long before Jim felt burdened to return them to Cambridge – remembering the unsurpassed beauty of their flat ovals on the dresser-top.


In the Cottage sitting room, a dedication to craftsmanship is everywhere; from the table in a single block of American elm, shipped as ballast in the 18th century on the return of empty slave ships, to the brass candlesticks, gleaned 100 miles apart from Mazagan and Tarudant. They are overlooked by a shelf of apple-green-bordered Rockingham plates and a sugar bowl from a friend who ran a London restaurant. At the end of the dining area, William Congdon’s Istanbul no. 2 in thick, sombre, brushwork, is set as the focal point.


From the downstairs living room, a spiral staircase leads on, its form echoed on the cedar table’s perfect arrangement of pebbles – Jim’s personal yield from a week on the Norfolk coast. Emerging atop the stairs, a spacious living room that centres around a Bechstein piano. A gleaming object, at once dark yet light, that originally belonged to Helen, herself a talented musician.



Kettle’s Yard is, above all, a timeless record of an individual’s sensibility, compassion, and dedication. It is a refuge of peace and order, ‘in which stray objects, stones, glass, pictures, sculpture, in light and in space, have been used to make manifest the underlying stability,’ as Jim Ede wrote.  A tranquillity enlivened with the textures,  memories and mysteries of the home.


In the modern extension upstairs, opened in 1970, thirteen blue and white ceramic plates in the corner cupboard made for Trinity College in 1820. Jim compared their blue to the skies of Tintoretto, bringing comfort to him during the heat and distress of his wartime post in India.


Proceeding into the far corner – a grand set of monotone collages by Italo Valenti, acquired on a momentous trip to Documenta III on the invitation of Ben Nicholson. Their edges left torn with ‘skill and sensibility that left me amazed’. Beneath, a slate table housing John Clegg’s Fiddle Fish, carved from his mother’s marble washstand, after seeing small versions in Persia. Alongside it, Lucy Rie’s ceramic Conical Bowl (The Wave), drawing subtle comparisons in weight, poise, and tone.

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