Kettle's Yard in Cambridge has a very special place in my heart. It was the first (and pretty much only) art gallery (that's not a gallery) I have visited where I really connected, where I felt comfortable, where I adored pretty much everything, and where I felt I understood what art was all about.
Kettle's Yard is very different to other art galleries. Firstly, and very importantly, it's a house, not a gallery (although it does have a modern gallery space attached to it). The house was very carefully designed by Jim and Helen Ede in the 50s, when they transformed four dilapidated cottages into a single homely space, to display their collection of artworks, furniture and natural objects. They felt strongly that art should be enjoyed in a relaxed atmosphere, not in neat rows on large walls in austere spaces. They generously donated Kettle's Yard to Cambridge University in the 60s, so it could be enjoyed by all, and so students could understand how to appreciate art.
You ring a large bell to enter and are warmly greeted by the staff who introduce you to the space and give you some background to Jim and Helen Ede. You are encouraged to feel at home and to sit on the chairs - art has been very carefully placed, so you only notice certain things when you are seated. The play of light on the objects is beautiful too, and not coincidental. I was lucky enough to visit on a sunny day and the beautiful light and shadows were a big part of what felt a very personal and magical experience.
I absolutely love the integration of natural objects with artworks on the walls, and sculptures, and the beautiful vases of fresh flowers. Textures are so rich, and each object enhances the others. I was hugely influenced by the beautiful spirals of round pebbles when I visited as a student 20 years ago. To this day, I have always had a spiral of pebbles in all my homes, and various other displays of pebbles and shells - I spend hours hunting down the smoothest roundest pebbles whenever I'm near the sea. I hadn't made the connection, until my return to Kettle's Yard.
It really is a truly magical place, and I can't encourage you strongly enough to visit if you are anywhere near Cambridge. My photos don't do the place justice - you really have to visit. For more information, please go to the Kettle's Yard website.