Colour and curating – the newly re-opened Kettles Yard is must-visit for interiors lovers

You would be forgiven, thanks to Instagram et al, for thinking that curating our homes with a chic balance of high and low brow art, domestic design and colour has been ingrained in our cutlural thinking forever. But in 1958, Jim Ede who had worked as a gallery curator at Tate Britain, pioneered this way of thinking about how we live – and surrounded by what – when he moved with his wife Helen into their Cambridge home Kettles Yard. Taking with them an almighty collection of art and sculptures amassed from Jim’s curating years, they set about carefully positioning pieces by the likes of Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Joan Miro, Brancusi, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth alongside their domestic furniture and belongings, beach combings among them.  Jim shared his vision about living with art and letting your fruit be part of your display by leading ‘open house’ tours every afternoon of term and in 1966 he gifted the house – more, a clutch of cottages – and its contents to the University of Cambridge. By 1970 he had commissioned Leslie Martin and David Owers to make an extension for an exhibition gallery. Just last month after a 14 year project, Kettles Yard re-opened with a further two new galleries, education areas and a cafe designed by Jamie Fobert Architects to complement the original  buildings.

Striking built-in seating at the new galleries at Kettle’s Yard, designed by Jamie Fobert Architects. Photo: Hufton+Crow

The permanent collection in the 1970s extension of Kettle’s Yard. Photo Kettle’s Yard

And complement them they do. Jamie Fobert’s £11m addition is a tidy fit with the original slightly ramshackle Kettles Yard and with the ethos that Jim Ede had put in place. A palette of rough plaster walls, concrete, wood and exposed brickwork helps the peaceful union to the mostly white, brick and wood original cottages. While in the old house the most colourful moments come chiefly from the art on or against walls, in the new extension it’s built-in seating and the inside of the staircase that add sculptural black shapes that look borrowed from the Miro paintings, while smaller elements – such as red chairs – bring small shots of colour. The architect’s own description of the project as “gentle additions” is perfect and could just as easily be applied to the curated displays of stuff dotted around. 

A Joan Miro, part of the original collection. Photo Kettle’s Yard

The new staircase at Kettle’s Yard, designed by Jamie Fobert Architects. Photo: Hufton+Crow

The new galleries at Kettle’s Yard, designed by Jamie Fobert Architects. Photo: Hufton+Crow

Photo Kettle’s Yard

When Ede commissioned Leslie Martin to create the first gallery, he described the designer’s “comfortably proportioned” interiors  and Fobert seems to also have taken this to heart in his extension. Again, its an idea that seems to also play a big part in the way that object’s are placed together.

Painting by William Scott. Courtesy of Kettle’s Yard

From the perfect number of items on a console table to the row of paintings hung at (ideal) eye level for most visitors. The way a textile is hung on one blank wall but there are nice pauses of nothingness on others. How colours in paintings appear elsewhere on a mantlepiece… it’s all a bit of a study on how to make a comforting yet extremely interesting room.

Painting by Ben Nicholson. Courtesy of Kettle’s Yard

Inside the new galleries at Kettle’s Yard, designed by Jamie Fobert Architects. Photo: Hufton+Crow

Constantin Brancusi’s Prometheus (1912) on the grand piano Courtesy of Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge

Photo from Kettles Yard

As the museum’s director Andrew Nairne recently told The Art Newspaper about a lemon on a pewter dish, which matches the yellow in a nearby Miro painting, it acts as the “most amazing stab of colour”.

We’re putting Kettle’s Yard at the top of our list of day trips on the basis that anywhere that places importance on colour matching their fruit to their art is ok in our books.



Jill Macnair


Jill Macnair has worked as an interiors journalist for 13 years, contributing to titles including Elle Decoration, The Sunday Times and The Guardian. She set up cult interiors blog My Friend’s House in 2009 with Ros Anderson and continues to run the forum daily.

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