MARION HALL BEST INTERIORS
Wandering through the new Marion Hall Best exhibit at the Museum of Sydney; looking at the displays and videos and learning more about her life, I wished Marion Hall Best still had her store on Queen Street in Woollahra. It looked amazing... bolts of brightly coloured fabric lined to the ceiling, stunning glassware, art on the walls. I had first learned about Best when studying design, and we went to the Caroline Simpson Library and Reseach Collection at The Mint (part of Sydney Living Museums). An archival drawer was pulled out, and there was a floor plan that Best had marked up with colour and print. Coming from a construction background, I thought it very cool that you could jazz up a blueprint in such a manner. I was quite pleased to see this floor plan is up on the wall in the exhibit for all to inspect!
Marion Hall Best was a pioneer interior designer who had a hand in introducing moderism to Sydney. Starting in the late 1930s and continuing through to the 1970s, Best operated an interior design firm, as well as two stores: one in Woollahra and one in Sydney city. With the myriad design courses available today, it is hard to believe that no such course was available to Best when she went back to school to educate herself in design in the 1930s. She took a combination of art classes, architecture classes and a correspondence course in interior design through a school in New York. In 1951, she was the founding member of the Society of Interior Designers of Australia.
Marion Hall Best's interiors are identifiable by her unique use of colour in three dimensions and modern furniture. She would go on research trips overseas, bringing back her finds for both her clients and her stores. She used international designers as Eero Aarnio (whose ball chair you see in the 1967 Room for Mary Quant), Eero Saarinen, Charles and Ray Eames, Harry Bertoia, Walter Plather for Knoll. Locally, she used furniture designs by Gordon Andrews, Clemet Meadmore and Roger McLay.
Marion Hall Best is described by those who knew her as generous, kind, energetic, immaculately dressed, liked to share, embraced all that was new, loved theatre, music and the arts, and drew out the best in her employees. An avid promoter of artists, she displayed their artwork on her walls, and had gallery events in her stores.
The exhibit is full of wonderful details of her life and design: of the textile design extension of her business, how she created the brightly coloured glazed walls in her schemes, a collection of Marimekko print dresses (which became the unofficial uniform of those who worked with her), pieces of modern furniture that were used in her designs, and a lovely film of interviews with the women who worked alongside her and give an account of the amazingly talented woman she was.
The Marion Hall Best Interiors exhibit is on now at the Museum of Sydney (part of Sydney Living Museums) as part of the Modernist Season. It is a companion exhibit to The Moderns, so you can check out both at the same time. For more on the exhibit, click here for the museum's website.
Further reading on Marion Hall Best can be found here.
All photography copyright Donna Vercoe