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
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.
- 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.
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.
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For access to Marion Hall Best material, contact:
Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection
T 02 8239 2233
Series A Marion Hall Best: autobiographical material
Series B Marion Best Pty Ltd: Talk transcripts and business ephemera
Series C Marion Best Pty Ltd: published materials
Series P Marion Hall Best (1905-1988) & Marion Best Pty Ltd: photographs
Marion Hall Best: autobiographical material
- Transcript of Marion Hall Best's autobiography
- Annotated transcript of Marion Hall Best's autobiographical tapes (source for MHB/A/1) - photocopy
- 6 pages typescript, reminiscences by Marion Hall Best of childhood & family life in Dubbo, schooldays at Frensham, with notes on family history (2 copies, each with annotations by Marion Hall Best)
- 12 pages manuscript account of one of Marion Hall Best's most important clients, Dick and Joan Crebbin and family & the architects, artists, designers & makers whose work was used in commissions associated with this client (including Clement Meadmore, Peter Chambers, Eero Saarinen, Leonard French, Robert Klippel, Norman Parker, Herman Miller, Mona Hessing, Vaughan Davidson, Marimekko, Gordon Andrews, Peter Hall) – intended to be inserted into MHB/A/1
- 4 pages typescript, with annotations, version of MHB/A/5
- 2 pages of heavily-annotated typescript, numbered 85-86, an account of the Society of Interior Designers' Rooms on View 1971 exhibition
- 19 pages typescript (photocopy) titled "The Decorative arts of the Twentieth century with Marion Best", compiled by Caroline [Simpson] in Oct 1981 from Marion Hall Best's own written reminiscences & published in 'Art and Australia' Winter 1982 pp.455-460
- Bound vol. Interior decoration of lessons for 2 home study courses, 1 on interior decoration & 1 on modern decoration, together with Marion Hall Best's marked examination papers for each lesson
- 1 audio cassette - side B: 30 mins, Marion Hall Best reading first part only of memoir of childhood & family life in Dubbo, school, nursing training and early career (ref. MHB/A/1 and MHB/A/2)
- Travel diary for 1949 - diary entries relating to buildings & interiors, general description & travel, people met etc in Italy, Austria, France, England, Scotland and Cyprus
Marion Hall Best Pty. Ltd. transcripts of talks and company ephemera
- 7 pages typescript headed 'Interior design', notes prepared by Marion Best for an unidentified talk, c1959
- Letter of thanks to Marion Best from Gavin Walkley Chairman, Programme Committee of Sixth Australian Architectural Convention, Adelaide, 1956. Letter dated 13th June 1956
- 2 pages typescript notes on 'Designing for interiors' prepared by Marion Best for Sixth Australian Architectural Convention held in Adelaide in 1956
- 9 pages typescript headed 'Design for Every Day Things: Furnishing', notes to accompany slides presented at Sixth Australian Architectural Convention held in Adelaide in 1956
- 3 pages typescript ''University of New South Wales brochure editorial' with carbon copy of covering letter from Marion Best Pty Ltd. to Messrs. Waterhouse-Hunt Associates, dated 31st January 1962
- 2 page typescript (carbon) copy of article by Mary White on 'Interior designers: Marion Best' published in the Australian Home Journal February 1968
- collection of business stationery and flyers: - Marion Best Pty Ltd business cards; - invitation to view 1968 Marimekko collection; - circular and rectangular swing tags; - Marion Best Pty Ltd Christmas card (designed to fold into a box); - notification card for cessation of trading of Marion Best Pty Ltd as from January 25, 1974 - 'Marion Best' shop bags
- Advertising file 1957-1971, comprising copies of Marion Best Pty Ltd advertisements placed in journals and newspapers, with related correspondence. The cuttings etc were originally housed in a ring-binder covered in Marimekko fabric (MHB/C/11)
- Bundle of 9 x 9 cm Marion Best Pty Ltd 'Greetings' cards screened onto acetate sheet
Marion Best Pty Ltd: published materials
- Collection of six small exhibition catalogues for which Marion Best Pty Ltd created display 'rooms'. The catalogues are: Exhibition of an Englishman's home from 1700 to 1941 (1941), A walk through Europe (1950), Rare and beautiful things (1961), Sydney's "Ten best dressed rooms" (1962), Rooms on view (1967), Rooms on view 1971 (1971).
- Prospectus: Luxury flats for moderate incomes: Seven Elizabeth Street, Sydney with interiors designed by Marion Best Pty Ltd, c1939.
- 3 folders of cuttings from newspapers and magazines arranged chronologically and covering the period 1955-1974. The cuttings were originally housed in a ring-binder covered in Marimekko fabric (MHB/C/11)
- 11 x miscellaneous books and magazines owned by Marion Hall Best, some with references to Marion Best Pty Ltd
Marion Hall Best (1905-1988) & Marion Best Pty Ltd: photographs
- 1 colour phototransparency and 5 b&w photoprints: photographs of Marion Best Pty Ltd Queen Street Woollahra shop interiors and commissions taken by Antonia Blaxland 1950-1956
- 9 b&w photoprints of Marion Best Pty Ltd shop, commissions, and stock, taken by David Moore ca.1956-1967
- 2 b&w photoprints: Elizabeth Arden Salon Sydney ca.1956 taken by David Potts ca.1956
- 5 b&w photoprints: John and Marion Ball Best's house The Grove, Woollahra taken by Kerry Dundas 1968
- 3 b&w photoprints: Marion Best Pty Ltd merchandise taken by Diane Graham/John Garth late 1960s
- 3 b&w photoprints: Marion Best Pty Ltd shop displays in Queen Street Woollahra, 1960s, photographer unknown
- 4 b&w photoprints: photographs of The Lobby restaurant Canberra, 1968, photographer unknown
- 10 b&w photoprints: period rooms arranged for Exhibition of an Englishman's home from 1700 to 1941 (1941)
- 12 colour phototransparencies: rooms created for the Rooms on view exhibition, 1967
- 2 colour photonegatives and 2 colour photoprints: by Michael Andrews of 'A room for Peter Sculthorpe' created for the Rooms on view 1971 exhibition
- 16 b&w photoprints: Marion Hall Best and family ca.1936-1960, photographers unknown
Marion Best Pty Ltd: Commissions
- This series includes furniture and furnishings used by Marion Best Pty Ltd in known interior design schemes as well as some furnishing floor plans, furniture plans and sample boards prepared for particular clients.
- 'Penhallow’, Crebbin family home in Castlecrag, Sydney: includes furnishings from various schemes installed between 1960 and 1975:
L90/32: Stool with cowhide saddle seat, originally a Gordon Andrews design but with the footrest added and base altered to a Marion Best design to suit the client’s requirements, c1963;
L99/158: ‘Globe’ chair, designed by Eero Aarnio for Asko, Finland, c1966; originally used in ‘A room for Mary Quant’, a Marion Best Pty Ltd designed space for the Rooms on View exhibition, 1967;
L99/159: Circular wool shag rug by Marengo of Portugal, c1968;
L2000/43: 'Taraxacum' pendant light, designed by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni
for Flos, Italy, 1960 (produced c1971); originally used in ‘A room for Mr Peter Sculthorpe’, a Marion Best Pty Ltd designed space for the Rooms on View 1971 exhibition;
L2016/68: Pair of ‘Jonquil’ chairs designed by Erwin & Estelle Laverne for Laverne International, New York USA, c1965;
L2016/69: Coffee table, Model '784', Gianfranco Frattini design for Cassina Italy, 1969; originally used in ‘A room for Mr Peter Sculthorpe’, a Marion Best Pty Ltd designed space for the Rooms on View 1971 exhibition.
- Lewarne home in Neutral Bay, Sydney: interior furnishings, plans and ephemera from a 1965 decorative scheme and from additions and changes up to 1980.
The collection includes an architectural floor plan and a number of sample boards; part-rolls and lengths of wallpaper including by Nobilis SA of France and Noel Lyons Wallcoverings of Sydney; soft furnishings including case covers for chairs and seat cushions, table cloths, curtain and upholstery textile samples and curtains with matching blind by Marimekko Finland; quotes from sub-contractors.
- House in Woollahra, Sydney, decorated c1950: playroom furnishings including a pair of curtains by Frances Burke, Melbourne, and a sample of haircord carpet by Westminster Carpets Pty Ltd, Dandenong Victoria.
- House in Castle Cove, Sydney decorated c1970: small textile lengths of the same design by Marimekko Finland.
- Cater house in Red Hill, Canberra: furnishing samples and plans for proposed decoration in 1965, including house floor plan with furniture layout and sample boards; textile samples for curtains and upholstery; correspondence from Marion Best Pty Ltd. This decoration was never completed.
- The Grove, the Hall Best home in Woollahra, Sydney: a pair of ‘Elda’ armchairs designed by Joe Colombo, Italy, 1963. [illustrated in Vogue Australia, April/May 1968 p122 and Australian Home Journal, February 1969 p17].
- The Hyatt Hotel, Kings Cross, Sydney, decorated c1969-70: a ‘Rondo’ chair originally designed by Gordon Andrews but with the base altered to a Marion Best design to suit the client’s requirements.
- Foyster home in Yeronga, Brisbane: furnishing floor plan, a sketch plan for built-in furniture by Deirdre Broughton and designs with specifications for custom-made furniture by Sydney cabinet makers, Ricketts & Thorp Pty Ltd (1969-70).
- A 'Gazelle' chair with Indian cotton upholstery (damaged), chair designed by Gordon Andrews, 1957; used by Marion Best as her personal office chair following Peter Hall's 1965 redesign of the Marion Best Pty Ltd shop in Queen Street, Woollhara NSW.
- House in Double Bay, Sydney decorated c 1962: 2 x silk cushion covers, fabric by The Thai Silk Co Ltd [Jim Thompson], Thailand.
- Moonbah ski lodge, Thredbo NSW, decorated 1959: a tent wardrobe comprising aluminium frame and textile panels by Marimekko Finland.
- House in Dover Heights Sydney decorated c1957: a roller blind and matching valance of Jim Thompson silk, a rattan temple blind with cotton tassels on decorative rope.
- House in Mt Lofty, Adelaide, decorated c1960: cotton toile curtains designed by Cedric Flower.
- House in Wahroonga, Sydney, decorated c 1957: includes 11 lengths of wallpaper by Wall Paper Manufacturers Ltd of England and Nobilis SA of France; plus a pair of cotton printed curtains to match one Nobilis wallpaper [L2004/140].
- Apartment in Double Bay, Sydney, decorated 1977: three pairs of curtains - a pair of printed silk curtains, a pair of printed cotton curtains, a pair of woollen curtains, Unika Vaev, Denmark.
- Patrick White home in Castle Hill, Sydney, decorated c1960: pair of silk curtains.
- Apartment in Edgecliff, Sydney, c1965: Hand-woven Rya rug from Finland.
- House in Double Bay, Sydney, c1968: Rondo chair, design by Gordon Andrews, Sydney, with Alexander Girard designed ‘Checker’ upholstery, Herman Miller, USA, c1968.
House in Woollahra, late 1960s: fibreglass shell chair, design by Charles Eames for Herman Miller, USA
- House in Edgecliff Road, Bondi Junction: Pair of unlined silk curtains, The Thai Silk Co Ltd [Jim Thompson], Thailand, c1965.
Furnishings and costume (not commissions)
retailed by Marion Best Pty Ltd
- This series comprises furnishings, textiles and costume known to have been retailed by Marion Best Pty Ltd at either the shop in Queen Street Woollahra or Rowe Street Sydney but not used in any specific client commission. Items also listed include unused shop stock.
- Furnishing textiles
- L90/48: remnant, Marimekko Finland, used for curtains in a house in Mosman, Sydney, c1964.
L92/12-2:4; L93/8-1:15, L93/19: various lengths and designs of printed cotton, Marimekko Finland, 1960s-70s;
L93/8-27:37, L2011/29: various lengths and designs of printed cotton and voile, France, 1950s-70s;
L93/8-25:26, L2016/26, L2016/64: lengths of printed cotton velvet, Knoll International, USA, late 1960s;
L92/12-5:7, L92/16:17, L93/16:19: various lengths and designs of printed silk, The Thai Silk Co Ltd [Jim Thompson], Thailand, 1960s-70s;
L93/18, L93/8-20: various lengths and plaid colourways of printed cotton, India;
L93/8-21:24, L94/11: various lengths and colourways of woven wool, Unika Vaev, Denmark;
L2016/25: length of printed cotton, Unika Vaev, Denmark
- L92/12-1: Printed cotton curtain valance, France, 1950s.
L2016/62:63, L2016/65, L2017/6:9; L2017/32: various lengths, different colourways, mostly wool, 1960s-70s.
- Cushion covers
L2017/33:36: cushion covers, different designs, Marimekko Finland, 1960s-70s.
L92/18: length of silver reflective mylar (no pattern), as used in ‘A room for Peter Sculthorpe’, a Marion Best Pty Ltd designed display space in the Rooms on View 1971 exhibition;
L93/13:14, L2002/66:68, L2002/71:75, L2010/25: lengths and rolls by Follot and Nobilis SA, France, 1950s-70s.
L2008/204: roll, bonded silk, 1960s-70s;
L2017/4: roll, Marimekko, Finland, 1970s.
- Marion Best Fabrics
- L93/52: cushion cover, 'Leaves' design by Amie Kingston;
L93/53: textile bolt and textile length, 'Hibiscus' design by Dora Sweetapple.
- During the 1940s, Marion Best commissioned a number of Australian artists to design furnishing textiles under the brand name Marion Best Fabrics. These designs, which were screen-printed by Gilkes & Co, were sold in small quantities through Best’s Queen Street store and used in a number of her commissions. The Amie Kingston textile, ‘Leaves’, was one of several Australian fabrics illustrated in The Studio October 1942 [p. 140] while the Dora Sweetapple textile was one of four curtain fabrics illustrated in Australia: National Journal July 1941 [p. 57].
- Reference: Michael Lech “The Gilkes family, Marion Best Fabrics, and early fabric printing in Australia” in Australiana, August 2005, pp. 6-11.
- Blinds and tassels
- L94/5: Temple blind with rope cords and tassels, Japan, c1960;
L93/15: pair of tassels on decorative rope;
L2002/89: roller blind, printed cotton, France;
L2010/62: roller blind, bonded cotton, Marimekko, Finland, 1960s;
L2017/2:3: two lengths of unfinshed temple blinds, Japan, 1970s.
L2017/5: desk lamp, Japan, 1970s.
L2016/18: Gazelle chair (back-rest missing), design by Gordon Andrews, Sydney, upholstered with ‘Colinton stripe’ Old Glamis Fabric by Donald Brothers Ltd, Scotland, 1950s.
L2016/19: 'Cord' or 'Corded' chair, designed by Clement Meadmore, c1953
L2016/24: Coffee table, long low rectangular with metal legs and ‘pebble’ surface, Sydney, 1950s.
L2016/66: Paisley patterned silk dress, owned by Marion Best, made in India, c1970. A photo of Marion Best wearing the dress appeared in Australian Women's Weekly, 4 March 1970
L2017/12:25: 15 pieces of costume, Marimekko, Finland, c1968-1974 - dresses, skirts, blouses, t-shirts – worn by the staff of Marion Best Pty Ltd as an unofficial shop uniform.
Colour boxes & Trade catalogues
Sample book of printed silks, The Thai Silk Co Ltd [Jim Thompson], Thailand, c1970.
Rug sample by Marengo, Portugal, c1970.
Five boxes [7 x 22 x 22 cm] containing colour samples, 1960s-70s. These boxes were made by the staff of Marion Best Pty Ltd to show clients potential colours/colour combinations for interior furnishing schemes. Marion Best’s strong interest in colour was a hallmark of her style, leading to the development of a technique of colour glazes in which intense chartreuses, purples, pinks, reds, oranges and blues were combined to create mirror-like wall finishes.
TCQ 684.106 +
16 trade catalogues comprising furniture and furnishings sold by Marion Best Pty Ltd including:
12 x McGuire Company furniture catalogues, USA, 1956-82;
two x Knoll International, USA, 1966 and 1969;
one Danese Milano catalogue, Italy, 1968;
one Cassina furniture catalogue, Italy, 1973.
one Meadmore Originals catalogue, Australia, c1953