Museum Stories

Kettle’s Yard: A Tour Through Cambridge’s Modern Art Gallery

Ruxi Rusu 24 June 2024 min Read

Kettle’s Yard, a somewhat modest home in the middle of Cambridge, UK, harbors an impressive art collection of predominantly modern and abstract art. Jim Ede (1895–1990) was a curator at the Tate Gallery in London. Over the years, together with his wife, Helen Ede (1894–1977), he collected paintings, sculptures, and other valuable objects of art which he displayed in his homely environment. These included pieces by Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Joan Miró, and sculptures by Constantin Brancusi and Barbara Hepworth.

History, Vision, and Family Life

The Edes family moved to Cambridge in 1956, where they renovated four cottages that now are part of the same building, Kettle’s Yard.

Smartly designed, the house strikes its guests as a comforting and welcoming space. Indeed, Jim and Helen kept an open house during the afternoons for students to visit and enjoy their art collection. Lovers of art as they were, the couple wanted to share their passion for beauty and aestheticism with the world, starting a tradition of allowing students to rent pieces from their collection, which they could keep in their rooms throughout the year. Jim writes about his vision for the house in the following way:

An art gallery or museum, nor… simply a collection of works of art reflecting my taste or the taste of a given period. It is, rather, a continuing way of life from these last 50 years, in which stray objects, stones, glass, pictures, sculpture, in light and space, have been used to make manifest the underlying stability.

Additionally, the couple would often put up parties and organize concerts, where Helen would play the piano. Today, that practice continues, with Kettle’s Yard holding shows consistently throughout the year where local and international artists are invited to perform.

The couple, however, did not end up retiring in Cambridge. They offered the house with its art collection to the University of Cambridge in 1966. The house now remains largely unchanged, offering a real insight into the lives and aesthetic tastes of the Edes.

Kettle's Yard: Jim and Helen Ede in Tangier in 1937. © Paul Allitt. Prospect Magazine.

Jim and Helen Ede in Tangier in 1937. © Paul Allitt. Prospect Magazine.

A Walk Through the Rooms

The house, at its core, was designed to entertain. There are few private spaces apart from the bedroom, with most rooms being open to guests. These are filled with paintings and objects of art, which, interestingly, are not labelled; the university is interested in keeping the homely atmosphere alive, rather than that of a museum. Indeed, in every room, you will find a chair in which you are invited to sit and enjoy the surrounding art.

Starting with the ground floor, you will first encounter a small room that serves both as the living room and the dining room. In the afternoon shade, the space is filled with luminous sunshine beaming through the garden leaves outside the windows. The cottage’s connection to nature is truly remarkable; close to the earth, the space reunites various natural elements, from pebbles to flowers and even fruit.

Kettle's Yard: Ground floor room, Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK. Photo by the author.

Ground floor room, Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK. Photo by the author.

Interestingly, Jim used to place a lemon on a silver platter. This was a reference to still-life paintings. He would hold lectures around the lemon and the paintings in the room, explaining to visitors the importance of composition and color in painting.

The color yellow seems to be a significant aspect of the house. Although the home does not have a central stylistic theme, being more a collection of pieces that reflect Jim and Helen’s life journey and tastes, it is interesting to notice how yellow keeps emerging as a recurring element. It is not only visible in the lemon but also in paintings and flower arrangements that would always have a dash of yellow present.


The dining space is located in a corner, where the Edes would enjoy their meals. The area was functional yet artistically relevant, creating the impression of coziness through minimal space and proximity to the wall.

Kettle's Yard: Dining area, Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK. Photo by the author.

Dining area, Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK. Photo by the author.

Finally, next to the entrance, you can notice a small painting. This Joan Miró was offered to Jim by the artist himself after they met for a coffee. Although the Edes were not rich, through Jim’s job and their friendships with artists, they accumulated a significant number of pieces that now animate their home and bring joy to visitors.


Next to the living room, we enter into Jim’s bedroom. The simple space is decorated with various paintings and a setting of pebbles on the table, which keep appearing in various combinations throughout the house. The functional bedroom is brought to life by the magnificent window that allows light to flood the room.

Kettle's Yard: Pebbles in Jim Ede’s bedroom, Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK. Photo by the author.

Pebbles in Jim Ede’s bedroom, Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK. Photo by the author.

To reach the first floor, one must climb up a round, wooden staircase. Immediately on this second level, you are welcomed into a broad space populated by chairs, books, and a wooden, solemn piano. This is Helen’s piano, which she used to play at their parties. The room is truly reinvigorated by plants, with the Edes having a special love for nature that they wanted to bring indoors as well.

Plants are an important part of Kettle’s Yard. Not only does the house have a splendid adjacent garden, but in almost every room one can notice a flower or plant arrangement which adds to the serene atmosphere. Its plants, much like the surrounding artwork, enhance the space with a sense of harmony and life, highlighting once again the owners’ close attachment to the natural world.

Admirably, the views from the many comfortable chairs one might try out are peaceful and relaxing. The entirety of the house is picturesque and intimate: much like its outside gardens which can be observed from the first floor, the house is not designed to be sophisticated but to resemble a space of peace and mindfulness. It invites warmth and delicacy, encouraging its visitors to leave their worries at the door.


As we descend, we enter into the extension of the house, which was designed to host shows and exhibit the collection. A large Steinway piano populates the room. Even today, it is used periodically for concerts open to the public. Interestingly, the walls in this room are made of durable concrete. On the one hand, it gives the space the impression of grandeur and sternness but, on the other hand, creates an atmosphere of coldness and detachment, especially when compared to the rest of the house. Such a sentiment is, however, countered by the presence of soft, white sofas lounging from one corner of the room to another, inviting visitors to relax and enjoy the artworks.


Overall, the space of the house is warm and inviting, echoing the first owners’ desire to create a haven of tranquillity and peace secured by the presence of art, nature, and music. The Edes’ life is an important part of the house, reflected not only throughout the items that it harbors but also in the stylistic and interior design decisions made by the couple. Sitting on the verge of a paradox, Kettle’s Yard represents a moment captured in time, left mostly untouched. Nevertheless, given its close connection to the public, as the Edes intended, the space manages to flow and change over the years as people come by and sit in their chairs, enjoy their objects, and make new memories of their own that enrich the house’s history.

Artists and Paintings to Lookout For

We have already mentioned a couple of items worthy of your attention. These include the lemon on a silver platter and the small blue painting at the entrance. In the following section, however, we explore more artworks to be on the lookout for.

The house is famously filled with paintings by the British artist Winifred Nicholson (1893–1981). Born in Oxford, UK, Winifred is known for her gentle, innocent impressionist style, which reminds us of childlike curiosity and artistic freedom. She uses a mix of vibrant and muted light colors to bring forward simplified versions of the world surrounding her, with her paintings truly animating the space and providing serenity. It is no wonder that the Edes were attracted by her joyful use of space and color in her compositions, which are in line with their affinity for comfort and peacefulness. Particularly, Winifred is famous for her still lifes and landscapes.

Kettle's Yard: Winifred Nicholson, Roman Road (Landscape with Two Houses), 1926, Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK. Trustees of Winifred Nicholson/Kettle’s Yard.

Winifred Nicholson, Roman Road (Landscape with Two Houses), 1926, Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK. Trustees of Winifred Nicholson/Kettle’s Yard.

Christopher Wood (1901–1930) is another English painter whose presence is notably sensed at Kettle’s Yard. He is known for his coastal and maritime landscapes and also portraits and still lifes with flowers. His style can be occasionally characterized as rough, Wood often using dark, contrasting tones in his paintings. As opposed to Winifred, his artworks are heavier, though they fit remarkably well into the Edes’ aesthetic, not subtracting from the lightness of the house but rather offering it a grounding sense. The contrast is truly remarkable, with the couple being concerned at all times about striking a fine balance between light and dark, light and heavy throughout the house.

Kettle's Yard: Christopher Wood, Le Phare, 1930, Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.

Christopher Wood, Le Phare, 1930, Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.

Finally, the Edes also collected artworks by Ben Nicholson (1894–1982), Winifred Nicholsons’ husband. Nicholson is known for embracing a ‘primitivist’ approach to landscapes, inspired by Post-Impressionism and Cubism. With time, however, being influenced by artists such as Brancusi and Mondrian, he developed an even more abstract style, which encompasses a minimalist use of round, circular lines and shapes. This seems to be a natural progression from his earlier paintings, especially still lifes, in which he adopted an intuitive attitude to color and sketching. Nicholson won the Carnegie International in Pittsburgh, in 1952, and the first Guggenheim International Award in 1956.


Final Thoughts

Kettle’s Yard is a warm and enchanting home neatly hidden close to the center of Cambridge. Behind garden leaves and summer flowers, the cottage brings to life an impressive collection of artworks, sculptures, and other decorative elements, which showcase the owners’ closeness to nature and harmony. As a space of reflection and peace, it invites visitors to practice mindfulness, representing a must-see sight on your Cambridge itinerary. With its lightness, the lively yet subtle Kettle’s Yard brings forward a diverse and surprisingly pleasant art collection for its visitors’ delight.

For more details about opening times and ticket prices, please check out the collection’s website. Importantly, Kettle’s Yard also hosts temporary artist exhibitions and performances. Feel free to explore those on their website as well.



Chris Stephens, Christopher Wood 1901-1930, 1996, Tate’s website. Accessed: 18 Jun 2024.


Terry Riggs, Ben Nicholson OM 1894–1982, 1997, Tate’s website. Accessed: 18 Jun 2024.

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