Harold Stanley 'Jim' Ede was born on 7 April 1895 near Cardiff. He attended the Leys School in Cambridge, studied painting at Newlyn Art School and, after service in the First World War, attended the Slade School of Art in London. In 1921, Jim Ede married Helen Schlapp, the daughter of a professor of German at Edinburgh University, and found work in the photographic department of the National Gallery in London. The following year, he was appointed Assistant at the Tate Gallery, London, a change he describes as 'phenomenal': 'I gave up painting and became absorbed in the work of contemporary artists. I wrote a great deal about modern painting and sculpture, and came to know most of the leading artists of the day, and also the ones who were not yet known.'

It was while at the Tate that he formed important friendships with Ben and Winifred Nicholson, David Jones, Christopher Wood and other artists, and began collecting their work. He made trips to Paris that allowed him to meet avant-garde artists such as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, and Constantin Brancusi.. He was also able to acquire the greater part of the estate of Sophie Brzeska, the partner of the sculptor, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, who had been killed in the First World War. Ede strongly believed in the quality of Gaudier-Brzeska's work, and made it his mission to promote it, including through his best-selling book, 'Savage Messiah'.

It was while living at 1 Elm Row, Hampstead, in the 1920s and 1930s, that Ede began the practice of opening his house and engaging with new visitors. His guests included a great variety of artists, musicians, actors and literary figures, such as Georges Braque, Sergei Diaghilev, Vaslav Nijinsky, Naum Gabo, John Gielgud, Henry Moore, and Ben and Winifred Nicholson.

In 1936, Ede retired due to persistent ill health, and began spending part of the year in Tangier, Morocco. He commissioned a modernist house there, called 'White Stone', where he and Helen lived until 1952. During the war years, Jim travelled to the USA, with Helen, on lecture tours to raise funds for Allied War Relief. It was during this period that he came to know Richard Pousette-Dart and William Congdon. The Edes also opened their house in Tangier to servicemen on leave from Gibraltar, providing weekend retreats. In 1952, motivated by a desire to be nearer to their children, they moved to Les Charlottières, Chailles, near Amboise in the Loire Valley, France.

It was during this time that Ede found himself ‘dreaming of the idea of somehow creating a living place where works of art could be enjoyed, inherent to the domestic setting, where young people could be at home unhampered by the greater austerity of the museum or public art gallery and where an informality might infuse and underlying formality’. In 1956, the Edes moved to Cambridge and renovated four derelict cottages to create Kettle's Yard, which was opened to the public in December 1957. Here, Ede installed his collection of art, furniture, glass, ceramics and other natural objects he had gathered during his life, including the first piece of furniture that he bought aged 12 - a bureau which visitors now pass as they enter the house. By carefully positioning each work of art and object he aimed to create a perfectly balanced whole, as he explains in the seminal book on Kettle’s Yard, 'A Way of Life' (1984).

Ede described Kettle’s Yard not as an art gallery or a museum, but ‘a continuing way of life from these last fifty years, in which stray objects, stones, glass, pictures, sculpture, in light and in space, have been used to make manifest the underlying stability which more and more we need to recognise if we are not to be swamped by all that is so rapidly opening up before us.

Ede held open house for two hours each day during term-time, inviting students of the University and other visitors to view the house and collection. Many visitors returning to Kettle’s Yard today recall being invited in as a student to enjoy tea and toast and to learn about art. An important tradition that continues today was the loan of works of art from the collection to students, to be hung in their college rooms for the academic year. Through this generous initiative, Ede enabled others to also live with and curate art and in their own domestic spaces.

It was always Ede's intention that he would give Kettle's Yard to a higher education institution, and on 30 November 1966, he officially handed over responsibility for the building and the collection to the University of Cambridge. From 1966, he devoted considerable energy to fund-raising for an extension to accommodate the growing collection, music events, and temporary exhibitions. The extension, designed by Sir Leslie Martin and David Owers, was opened in 1970 by Prince Charles with a performance by Daniel Barenboim and Jacqueline du Pré. Ede continued to live there as 'honorary curator' until 1973, when he and Helen left for Edinburgh. Helen died in 1977 and Jim devoted the last years of his life to working as a hospital visitor, until his death in 1990.

Kettle’s Yard continues to thrive today as a unique space in which to view a world-renowned collection of twentieth century art. It also welcomes visitors to enjoy its exhibition programme of modern and contemporary art and public programme of talks and events that reflects both Jim’s support for contemporary artists and his wish that art was for everyone.