Exhibition: Marion Hall Best: Interiors and Collection / Museum of Sydney

A colour visionary, Marion Hall Best in the courtyard of her Woollahra home. Photo: Rodney Weidland

Marion Hall Best: Interiors

Sydney Living Museums announces a colourful, dynamic new exhibition celebrating the career of one of the first independent and most influential Australian interior designers – Marion Hall Best: Interiors opening on 5 August at the Museum of Sydney. This exhibition is part of Sydney Living Museums’ larger A Modernist Season throughout July to November. Described as electrifying, vital and avant-garde, Best’s interior decorating schemes were unashamedly modern at a time when other interior designers preferred a subdued palette and period furniture. She claimed that “gentle, soft colours … are not restful, but dreary, sapping the energy and the mind”; by contrast, “bright clear colours challenge the mind.” Her interior decorating style vibrated with colour through her signature glazed painted finishes on walls and ceilings. “Best had a love of colour and an uncanny ability to use it to transform a room,” says exhibition curator Michael Lech. “Sydney Living Museums holds the largest collection of textiles, furnishings, ephemera and imagery relating to Best’s work, which will be on display in this exhibition showcasing her career.”

This 1971 exhibition room was designed by Best and Deirdre Broughton. It was inspired by the composer Peter Sculpthorpe. Photo: Michael Andrews

Although she designed mostly private commissions, Best’s work was promoted more broadly through photographs and articles in popular magazines and newspapers, exhibition display rooms and in her two shops in Queen Street, Woollahra (1939–74) and Rowe Street, Sydney (1949–61). Best was inspired by the modernist movement and colour theory of artists of the interwar years. She is attributed with introducing international modernism to the Australian market through importing furniture and furnishings from all over the world including: textiles by Marimekko, Jim Thompson Thai silks and Indian cottons, French wallpapers from Nobilis and Follot, furniture by Knoll, Herman Miller and Cassina, lighting from Flos and Iittala. “Marion Hall Best: Interiors is a part of our Home & Architecture series, celebrating modernism in Australia, the renewed public interest in its bold, simple, aesthetic and its significance to Sydney’s heritage,” says Mark Goggin, Executive Director, Sydney Living Museums. Michael Lech further notes, “Best’s ability to transform space through colour has rarely been matched. Her work, once seen, was seldom forgotten.”

Marion Hall Best thought colour inspired creativity. Photo: Attributed to Mary White


WHAT: Marion Hall Best: Interiors
WHEN: Opening Saturday 5 August
WHERE: Museum of Sydney
COST: FREE with museum admission: $12 general, $8 concession, $30 family, FREE members




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).

Last updated: 1 October 2013


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. 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 1938 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 and furniture – 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.


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


The Marion Best collection comprises material from several sources: from Marion Best’s daughter Deirdre Broughton, and from other family members; from former staff of Marion Best Pty Ltd, including Mardi McElvenny; and some items from former clients.

For access to Marion Hall Best material, contact:

Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection
T 02 8239 2233


Marion Hall Best: autobiographical material

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 of the 1960s & 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 1971 Society of Interior Designers Rooms on View 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 memoir of childhood & family life in Dubbo, school, nursing training (ref. MHB/A/2), then ‘3 pages’ missed, & rest of narration relates to pages 3-9 of MHB/A/2; missed 3 pages are read on side A & those ‘3’ pages relate to page 1 of MHB/A/2
Travel diary – diary entries relating to buildings & interiors, general description & travel, people met etc in Italy, Austria, France, England, Scotland and Cyprus in 1949


Marion Hall Best Pty. Ltd. Interior Design

7 pages typescript headed ‘Interior design’, notes prepared by Marion Hall Best for Sixth Australian architectural convention held in Adelaide in 1956
Letter of thanks to Marion Hall Best from Gavin Walkley Chairman, Programme Committee of Sixth Australian Architectural Convention, Adelaide, 1956. Letter dated 13th June 1956
pages typescript notes on ‘Designing for interiors’ prepared by Marion Hall 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 stationery including business cards; invitation to view 1968 Marimekko collection on the 7th August 1968 at 153 Queen St, Woollahra; circular product label; rectangular product tag; Marion Best Pty Ltd Christmas card (designed to fold and glue into a box; notification card for cessation of trading of Marion Best Pty Ltd as from January 25, 1974
Advertising file 1957-1971, comprising copies of 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
TCQ 684.106 +
10 trade catalogues comprising furniture and furnishings sold by Marion Best Pty Ltd including eight McGuire Company furniture catalogues, USA, 1962-80; one Danese Milano catalogue, Italy, 1968; and one Cassina furniture catalogue, Italy, 1973.


Marion Hall Best: commissions & exhibitions

Collection of six small exhibition catalogues which include interiors by Marion Hall Best. 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).
1937 prospectus for Luxury flats for moderate incomes: 7 Elizabeth Street Sydney with interiors designed by Marion Hall Best.
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)


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
8 b&w photoprints of photographs 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 1967 Rooms on view exhibition
2 colour photonegatives and 2 colour photoprints: by Michael Andrews of ‘A room for Peter Sculthorpe’ created for the 1971 Rooms on view exhibition
16 b&w photoprints: Marion Hall Best and family ca.1936-1960, photographers unknown


Lewarne house 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 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 Castle Cove, Sydney decorated c1970: textile samples 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.
Foyster house 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).
House in Double Bay, Sydney decorated c 1962: silk cushion covers made in Thailand for Jim Thompson.
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.
Crebbin house in Castlecrag, Sydney: includes furnishings from various schemes installed between 1960 and 1975; Eero Aarnio designed ‘Globe’ chair, originally used in the Marion Best designed ‘A room for Mary Quant’, Rooms on View exhibition 1967; pendant light fitting, originally used in the Marion Best designed ‘A room for Peter Sculthorpe’, Rooms on View exhibition 1971 [L2000/43]; circular wool shag rug by Marengo of Portugal [L99/159]; 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 [L90/32].
Apartment in Double Bay, Sydney, decorated 1977: printed silk, wool and printed cotton curtains.
Patrick White house in Castle Hill, Sydney, decorated c1960: silk curtains.
House in Woollahra, Sydney, decorated c1950: playroom furnishings including curtains by Frances Burke of Melbourne and a sample of haircord carpet by Westminster Carpets Pty Ltd of Dandenong Victoria.
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.
House in Wahroonga, Sydney, decorated c 1957: includes lengths of wallpaper by Wall Paper Manufacturers Ltd of England and Nobilis SA of France with a matching pair of cotton printed curtains [L2004/140].
House in Mt Lofty, Adelaide, decorated c1960: cotton toile curtains designed by Cedric Flower.
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].


purchased from Marion Best Pty Ltd in Queen Street Woollahra

Textile remnant by Marimekko Finland, used for curtains in a house in Mosman, Sydney, c1964.
Printed cotton curtain valance, 1950s.
Marion Best Fabrics cushion cover, design by Amie Kingston, and textile bolt, 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.
A ‘Gazelle’ chair designed Gordon Andrews in the 1950s and used by Marion Hall Best as her personal office chair following Peter Hall’s c1967 redesign of the Marion Best Pty Ltd shop in Queen Street, Woollhara NSW.
Hand-woven Rya rug from Finland, used in an apartment in Edgecliff, Sydney, c1965.


Soft furnishings including printed cotton textile lengths from Marimekko Finland [L92/12-2:4, L93/8-1:15, L93/19]; printed silk textile lengths from Jim Thompson Thailand [L92/12-5:7, L92/16:17, L93/8-16:19]; cotton textile lengths from India [L93/18, L93/8-20]; woven wool textile lengths from Denmark [L93/8-21:24, L94/11]; silk and cotton velvet textile lengths from Knoll, USA [L93/8-25:26]; printed cotton textile lengths from France [L93/8-27:37].
Wallpaper including length of silver reflective mylar (no pattern), as used in the Marion Best designed ‘A room for Peter Sculthorpe’, Rooms on View exhibition 1971; lengths and rolls by Follot and Nobilis SA of France [L93/13:14, L2002/66:68, L2002/71:75].
Rug sample by Marengo of Portugal.
Temple blind with rope cords and tassels, Japan; pair of tassels on decorative rope [L93/15]; roller blind, printed cotton, France [L2002/89].


Five boxes [7 x 22 x 22 cm] containing colour samples, c1960. 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.
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