Kettle’s Yard – Cambridge – August 2019

posted in: Cambridgeshire, 2019 | 0

Kettle’s Yard is an unusual and unique house near the centre of Cambridge with an impressive collection of 20th century art and sculptures arranged to capture the beauty of every object right down to the displays of collected pebbles – the house and its collection was donated to Cambridge University!

 WALK LENGTH: 40 minutes there and back

DATE and START TIME: 8th & 22nd August 2019

PARKING: No need – it’s a local walk for me – how lucky am I! It’s fairly near the centre of Cambridge so parking is nigh on impossible but cycling or the bus is probably the best option – check out Kettle’s Yard website for directions.

ROUTE WALKED: From home down Castle Hill to Kettle’s Yard and home again.  

WALK DETAILS: c 1.5 miles

HIGHEST POINT: The beauty in simplicity.

WALKED WITH: Myself on one occasion and with my sister on the other!

WEATHER: Glorious summer sunshine though the museum is inside!

Kettle’s Yard has undergone an incredible refurbishment programme (reopened in February 2018) so that the site now includes not only the house which was originally made from four cottages in a lowly part of the city but also includes grand exhibition areas and education rooms allowing even more people to enjoy everything it has to offer.

This beautiful house was originally the home of Jim Ede and his wife Helen. In the 1920s he was curator at the National Gallery of British Art – later the Tate Gallery in London. He went out of his way to promote the work of and make friends with contemporary artists including Picasso and Mondrian in the course of which he acquired many works of art. He also travelled extensively living for a time in Morocco – where the influences of minimalism and plain white walls can be seen reflected in the decor of Kettle’s Yard. He also lived for a time in France and America.

Returning to England in 1956 he bought and converted the four derelict cottages in Cambridge as a place to live and display his art collection. His idea was that art should be enjoyed and shared and therefore he would open his home every afternoon giving personal tours of the collection to Cambridge University students over afternoon tea.

Jim and Helen continued to live at Kettle’s Yard till 1973 when they moved to Edinburgh and left this incredible gift of the house with everything in it to the university to be continued to be enjoyed by visitors.

At the beginning of the tour the rope bell is rung and the door is opened by an enthusiastic guide. Everything in the house has been carefully thought about – nothing is present by accident – even the lemon on the pewter plate when you first enter the house is placed there in order to link to the painting on the wall with the yellow circle.

As I’ve mentioned, Jim championed the new and up and coming artists of the time buying art work before the artist in question had yet made a name for themselves and was keen for others to enjoy their work too.

Even the way the sun shines through the simple white blinds casting a morse code of dots and dashes of light across the tables creates a feeling of stillness and calm – a great antidote to the hectic pace of life and the endless talk of Brexit!

As you enter the first room the steward points out the unusual placing of a painting below the window frame – a seemingly odd place to hang a picture only to discover that the placing is perfect once sitting in the low nearby chair from which the painting now seems to be in the ideal eye level position – every item has been positioned with care, nothing left to chance.

Jim Ede in fact wrote ‘A Way of Life’ about Kettle’s Yard.  It takes the form of a guided tour from room to room in the form of black and white photographs with comments on the various objects. As a visitor it’s time to enjoy the way the light falls on everyday objects from the glass, china, wood, stone and canvas.  He described the joy of arranging the rooms believing that the rooms should be “Havens of rest in an over-complicatedlife” which completely captures my feelings as I wander around the rooms.  After the initial introduction by the guide you are free to wander at will around the maze-like series of rooms enjoying the space and the calmness created by the white washed walls and waxed wooden floors with there simple functional wooden furniture.  It is the perfect environment to enjoy the beauty of the house.  Sitting for a while in one of the many chairs throughout the house gives you yet another perspective on the surrounding artwork and arrangement of objects.  It’s definitely the kind of place you want to take your time in. 

The pot-plants and vases filled with fresh flowers throughout the house are just so beautiful.

This bureau was one of the first pieces of furniture that Jim bought.

I feel like I just want to sit and read . . . a quiet little corner to enjoy.

I really like the way they’ve placed this narrow refectory style table in this nook and again the placement of flowers and the spherical stone in the corner and simple throw allow for a feeling of stillness.

Beautiful stones simply arranged . . . what do they make you think about . . . ?

Here a simple basket of pebbles is organised to show the gradation of colours from light to dark from small to large . . .  the simplicity really works for me!

A spiral staircase near the entrance takes you up to this floor, pictured above.  As you can see they keep visitors ticketed to ensure that the house doesn’t become overcrowded – space and quiet is important to really experience what Jim intended when they opened up their house to visitors so it’s perfect that this tradition has continued.

It’s almost like the window is framing the view.

Even the bathroom becomes an art gallery . . . 

A simple arrangement of sea shells . . . 

The bedroom is simple but functional . . . wouldn’t it be lovely to have so little clutter . . . I really must do some Marie Kondo tidying!

Bridging between the original cottages has been used to create a small conservatory area.

There’s another conservatory area further along.

Space is carefully used . . . here a small bookcase is used to separate the sitting area from the broad passageway.

Here’s the view on the other side of the bookcase!  It’s inviting to sit and enjoy the space with the light shining through the beautifully shaped window at the far end of the room.

There are plenty of areas to sit and relax within the house.

This long corridor opens to the space below still used today for concerts and forms a beautiful art gallery leading to the library area at the far end of the house.

Lots of sea scenes and of course plenty of places to sit and enjoy the art.

Box files are available to rifle through with information on the various collections etc throughout the house.

You probably think this is a very odd photograph to include but I liked the way that the house has a light and airy feel yet there aren’t that many traditional windows upstairs . . . instead the architects have designed these roof windows which allow for plenty of natural light as you can see but without any of the art work being in direct sunlight and also allowing for maximum wall space to hang the numerous pictures.


Looking back along the corridor with the library area at the bottom left of the photograph . . . It’s not time to go downstairs yet but we can certainly take a quick peak below . . . 

Before heading for the lower floor it’s time to head to the upper floor.

This oval window is on the stairs to the upper floor and once again there’s a cleverly designed bookcase near the top of the stairs.

A simple bedroom at the top of the stairs . . . 

Looking back towards the stairs.

About to head down the stairs to the final area of the house.

This is one of my favourite paintings.

Did you notice that this is the sculpture that Jim Ede was photographed with at the beginning of this post?

Leaving this post with the image of the Buddha sums up my feelings of calmness and stillness after my visit. It really is a very special place to visit.

Even today Cambridge students are able to borrow a painting from the collection