Captivating contrasts: Inside Kettle’s Yard’s artistic interiors *

Discovering Kettle’s Yard

When I left school, I was a bit slow to realise that creativity and design was where I was destined for. After an initial two-week stint studying nursery nursing, I managed to get a last-minute place at the local art school in Norwich. When I started there was a lot of talk about Kettle’s Yard, having just missed out on a study trip there. I didn’t know what Kettle’s Yard was, or what I was missing and to be honest that is probably the last I thought about it, until May of this year. Since then, I have managed to squeeze in multiple trips and if you follow me on Instagram, you will know just how much love I have for this place. If you are wondering what is sooo special about Kettle’s Yard, you are about to find out.

Exploring a multifaceted space

Over the past couple of years, (since being old enough to embrace having a National Trust membership that is), I have been obsessing over historical houses and their quirky interiors, so Kettle’s Yard went straight on the list of places to visit since moving back to Norfolk (which is only an hour by train to Cambridge). If I’m being truthful, I still didn’t really know much about the place – except for it being a museum and a house of sorts, but having been told by so many people that I would absolutely love it there, I was keen to find out why. Those people were not wrong, and since my first visit, I have been totally in love with the place!

I love that it is a museum, but still a house, and also an art gallery. There so many layers of interest without it feeling at all overwhelming – as often museums and art galleries can.

The house is still set up and displayed as it was when the curator and owner handed the house and its contents to the University of Cambridge back in 1966. The sense of homeliness – with beds, and furniture all in the same position they originally were, gives the place a feeling of comfort, instantly relaxing you into the space. It doesn’t have a stuffy art gallery feel – instead a lovely nostalgic feeling. It is old, yet modern if that is even possible! I guess you could say it is timeless.

Contrasts in creativity and design inspirations

If you know me already, you will know that contrasts are one of my favourite ways to create strong interior styles – if it’s not colour contrasts, then it’s material contrasts, if it’s not materials, then its shapes! I think one of the main reasons that I fell for Kettle’s Yard so hard, is the way that they do contrasts: in a massive, yet subtle way.

I’m not going to delve into the details or the history of Kettle’s Yard, because although important in the development and the future of the space, it is not those things that I have found inspiring. Instead, my focus is on the details and how those details have created a space where things are done differently to everything and everyone else. I will be looking at specific details that can be used to inspire and inform the way we approach interior design in our own homes:

A fusion of eras and styles 

The original buildings were a terrace of four 19th century cottages, which Jim Ede (owner and curator of Kettles Yard) converted and gradually developed into one large house, with further modern additions added throughout the years. Not only are there architectural contrasts, but also the furniture and furnishings are a curated collection from throughout the ages.

It is an easy choice to buy styles that all match each other, but often this can leave interiors feeling simple and bland, missing the much-needed layers that create texture and add depth to a space. Building up a collection of furniture from different stages of your life will help to develop a story throughout your home and will naturally bring contrasts through your furniture into your space.

Rethinking placement and display, art beyond conventions

Jim Ede was previously a curator at The Tate Gallery, so his passion for art is obvious throughout the space. Over years of working and forging friendships with some incredible artists meant he was able to amass a collection of works from people such as Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Joan Miró, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth as well as many more. Whilst the artwork itself is inspiring, I found myself fascinated with the positioning of the art throughout the space.

I absolutely love that the drawings, paintings, and sculptures are curated and positioned in every and any space or position possible; a simple reminder to always question the obvious. Where in interiors we would usually be expected to position art so it can be viewed at eye level – Jim Ede questions where your eye level is – is it from seated or laying down in bed, or even in the bath? There is literally artwork at every corner. On the chests of drawers, tucked onto hidden little shelves and lent behind doors.

I think it is fair to say – this place makes you see every piece of furniture or even a simple lightshade differently. Each piece curated in a way that creates a perception that the space in its entirety is a work of art. Even the light switch covers!

Memories and curated collections

Kettles Yard has collections upon collections of books and objects: stones, fossils, seed heads and all sorts of delights from the natural world, all beautifully displayed and adding shape, texture, and depth to the space. Pieces that must have been collected over many, many years – are used to make a feature. Such a simple and happy way to re-live experiences and to trigger memories.

In my home, we have collections of the things we love, things we have made, as well as pieces that hold sentimental value. We have built them up over the years as our stories evolve and change. It makes me happy to think that these things which shape and develop our family story are documented and are there to be appreciated.

Blending time and style

There are so many contrasts through shape, line, and pattern in this place! Soft shaped and twisted pieces such as turned wood pedestals for display or a very modest, beautiful spiral staircase that flows on the inside a curved wall. There is a natural juxtaposition of organic shapes that contrasts effortlessly against the more linear architectural details such as rectangular bricks and tiles which are used to form thresholds or used as details beside beams. There are lovely hidden patterns contrasted against minimal linen on the inside of cushions covers – designed to be just peeking out. It is as if (and maybe it has), each piece has purposely been displayed with another differing style that balances and offsets the other. I like it!

Colour dynamics: from muted palettes to vibrant accents

The whole place is painted white. It is a simple and clear style that highlights the importance of and encourages the artworks and furniture to take centre stage. At kettle’s Yard, majority of the art is very muted with earthy and sludgy tones, yet this has been thoughtfully balanced with bright pops of colour from strategically positioned pieces of fruit and posies of flowers which would have originally been picked from the garden each day. The intermittent pops of colour add an unexpected dimension and draws the eye to something different, allowing you to refocus your attention.

Jim Ede was very clear when he handed the museum over to the University – that things must stay as he left them. Even now, the museum displays bunches of seasonal flowers to bring depth and interest to the exact same places throughout the house.

Comfort and appreciation in every corner

I have always been drawn to chairs – I think that they are some of the most interestingly designed pieces of furniture that we all have in our homes – with the added bonus that they actually get used regularly! With my love for chairs, it is no surprise to me that seating was up high on my list of appreciations during my time visiting.

There are chairs, benches, and seating everywhere, each seat being positioned purposefully to capture beautifully framed vignette. I don’t think you can ever have too many places to sit in your home, each position can create a different feeling, or have a different purpose – a space to escape, a place to sit and watch, a seat positioned to see the sun setting for example.

Design Perspective: Reflections on inspiration

I really appreciated being able to sit and embrace the different views at Kettles Yard, but more than that, to be able to sit and actually relax whilst enjoying what was in front of me. During my most recent visit with two of my closest friends, we realised that we had stayed for nearly five hours! We spent most of that time sitting on a sofa chatting whilst loving the environment we were in. It was so nice not to feel rushed, instead we felt welcome and encouraged to embrace our visit – the only thing missing a cup of tea!

If you love a museum, appreciate art and interiors then I would absolutely recommend a trip! It’s definitely top of my places to head to when I need to recharge, to feel inspired, or a reminder to break away from the conventional.

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