Daphne Phelps was born to English parents who knew Alys and Bertrand Russell and Sidney and Beatrice Webb. The family fortune was built around Kitsons of Leeds, locomotive manufacturers from the 1830s. Daphne attended St. Felix School, Southwold, Suffolk. She studied at Oxford University and the London School of Economics and became a psychiatric social worker. She went to New York City in 1939, but was blocked from returning to the UK by the outbreak of World War II. Back in London in 1941, she joined Sir Solly Zuckerman's team researching the effects of the Blitz. She worked at the London Hospital before joining the West Sussex child guidance service. In 1948, she was confronted with the decision of whether to continue her career as a psychiatric social worker, or to go to Sicily and restore Casa Cuseni, built by her uncle, the artist Robert H. Kitson, which she had inherited. She chose the latter, and embarked on an adventure that was to last for the rest of her long life. She became the custodian of Casa Cuseni, a unique and beautiful villa built on a site that commands spectacular views of Mount Etna and the Bay of Naxos over the rooftops of Taormina. She wrote A House in Sicily (1999), which provided her account of guests and local people, and embellished Casa Cuseni's terraces and courts with exotic plants and fruit trees.