A Life in Colour: Marion Hall Best

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Marion Hall Best (1905-1988) was an Australian interior designer and influential figure in the Australian design scene of the mid-20th century. She was born in Dubbo, NSW and began her career in 1929 with private decorating commissions. Over the next few years she went on to complete formal education and in 1939 opened Marion Hall Best Fabrics, her workroom and display space located in Woollahra which later included a retail store.

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Marion Hall Best / Caroline Simpson Collection, Museums of History NSW / Photo © Rodney Weidland

Best was known for her innovative use of colour and pattern, and her ability to blend traditional and modern styles to create unique and eclectic interiors. Best was unashamedly modern at a time when other interior designers preferred a subdued palette and period furniture. She often claimed that ‘gentle soft colours … are not restful, but dreary, sapping the energy and the mind’; by contrast, ‘bright clear colours challenge the mind’. In the early 1950s, Best said that people were often scared of colour but that ‘home decoration should be based on colour – one exciting colour stimulating other equally exciting shades’.

Modern Design. Leonard Joel Auctions
Marion Hall Best in the courtyard of her home at The Grove Woollahra, Sydney, c1952 / Caroline Simpson Library

Best was also a champion of Australian design and worked to promote local talent throughout her career. She was a founding member of the Society of Interior Designers of Australia and played a key role in establishing the Australian Design Centre in Sydney. In addition to her design work, Best was a collector and patron of the arts, amassing a significant collection of Australian art and design and supporting emerging artists and designers through her gallery.

She sourced and stocked furniture from Australian designers such as Gordon Andrews, Douglas Snelling, Grant and Mary Featherston and Clement Meadmore. As well as international names like Eero Aarnio and Harry Bertoia. Best was the first in Australia to offer iconic products from Herman Miller and Marimekko in her store.

Best’s legacy continues to inspire and influence designers today, and she is recognized as one of Australia’s most important and influential designers. Her work was ahead of its time and her willingness to experiment paved the way for future designers. In 1993 Catriona Quinn curated the first retrospective exhibition on Best at Historic Houses Trust of NSW (now Museums of History) titled Sydney Style: Marion Hall Best, Interior Designer. Then in 2017 the HHT (then Sydney Living Museums) staged an updated exhibition curated by Michael Lech, called Marion Hall Best Interiors. Both highlighting her contributions to interior design and her role as a promoter of Australian art and design.

REBECCA STORMONT / Modern Design Specialist

Banner Image: The living room of Marion Hall Best’s apartment in Sydney, taken around 1973 / Caroline Simpson Collection, Museums of History NSW / Photo © Rodney Weidland

May 2023