Marion Hall Best Collection

Scope & content

The Marion Hall Best collection comprises papers, plans, photographs, wallpapers, fabrics and other furnishings related to the career of Australian interior designer Marion Hall Best (1905-1988) and her company Marion Best Pty Ltd.

Last updated: 1 October 2017

Biographical Note

Marion Hall Best (1905-1988) was one of Australia’s most important and influential 20th century interior designers. She was an outstanding figure in the dissemination of the ideas of international modernism in relation to interiors in Australia.

She was born Marion Esdail Burkitt in 1905 in Dubbo, one of four children of Dr Edmond Henry Burkitt and his wife Amy Theodora Hungerford. She was educated at Frensham School, Mittagong, and trained and worked as a nurse before marrying prominent Sydney dentist John Hall Best in 1927. Her early career developed out of contacts made in Sydney’s arts and crafts circles in the 1920s, including those gained while attending art and design classes with Thea Proctor in 1926. She took on a series of private decorating commissions in the 1930s and continued to study, enrolling in first-year architecture at the University of Sydney in 1938 and, in 1939-40, completing a New York-based correspondence course in interior decoration.

In 1939 Best opened Marion Best Fabrics, a workroom with display area in Queen Street, Woollahra, to which she later added a retail business. Up until its closure in 1974 the shop stocked local designs – furniture by Gordon Andrews, Clement Meadmore, Roger McLay; printed textiles by Frances Burke, Douglas Annand and others – as well as a wide range of imported textiles, wallpapers,furniture lighting, rugs, glassware and ceramics – textiles by Marimekko and Jim Thompson; wallpapers from Nobilis and Follot; furniture by Saarinen, Bertoia, Aarnio, Danese Milano and McGuire Company. In 1949 Marion Best opened a small shop in Sydney’s Rowe Street, an enclave of shops and galleries specialising in art, craft and design. These retail outlets were a source of inspiration for the local design profession.

Marion Best’s career spanned a period in which the very concept of an ‘interior designer’ was invented, a period of transition from the department store decorators and art furnishers of the 1920s to the independent professional designers of today. She was a founding member of the Society of Interior Designers of Australia and instrumental in the emergence of the profession. Best reduced her workload after she sold her Queen Street shop, but continued to work with a select group of clients and a small staff into the 1980s.

References

  • Catriona Quinn, Sydney style: Marion Hall Best/interior designer, Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales, 1993
  • Michaela Richards, The Best style: Marion Hall Best and Australian interior design, Art & Australia Books, 1993.

Marion Hall Best, c1936-37 Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, Sydney Living Museums MHB/P/56

Provenance

The Marion Hall Best collection comprises material from several sources: from Marion Hall Best’s daughter Deirdre Broughton, and from other family members; from former staff of Marion Best Pty Ltd, including Mardi McElvenny; from former clients and from design enthusiasts and collectors like retailers, Chee Soon & Fitzgerald.

The National Gallery of Australia archives holds a research collection entitled: Papers of Marion Hall Best 1935-1970 (Archive MS 31). This chiefly comprises Marion Best Pty Ltd company scrapbooks and images (in a variety of formats) of the Marion Best shops and some design schemes. The Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection holds student design folios of Mardi McElvenny, a long term staff member of Marion Best Pty Ltd. Mardi studied interior design at the Shillito Design School in Sydney, 1966-68. The Art Gallery of NSW holds an oral history recording of Marion Hall Best, interviewed by Avenel Mitchell, 22 May 1980, mainly relating to her studies and association with artist Thea Proctor.

To access the Marion Hall Best material, please contact:

Caroline Simpson Library
Email: library@mhnsw.au
Phone: 02 8239 2233

Series content

Papers

Objects