Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Interior Savoir Faire from Down Under

A few of you have probably heard the name Marion Hall Best (1905 – 1988) and I am sure the majority of you haven’t. However here is a woman who ranks among the greats of interior design of the mid 1960’s. Dare say I put her in the same class as the late great David Hicks? Yes I do, as I can see that maybe they had both influenced each other over the decade, borrowing ideas from each other to create dazzling interiors that had a lot of simililarty. She was even called “the High Priestess of the Avant-Garde”.

Born in Dubbo of all places, (I grew up not far from Dubbo. Dubbo is a mid sized country city in Australia, however in 1905 it was one step up from being a backwater) in 1905 she went on to become the founder of Australian Interior design, and the local arbiter of the latest style the world had to offer in the 1960’s, as well as promoting home grown talent. Her Sydney shop became internationally famous as one of the places where one could go and be immersed in the latest interior design trends. She stocked fabrics from Marimekko, glassware from Kosta Boda, wallpapers from Nobilis and Follot, furniture from Saarinen, Bertoia and Eames, giving the Australian public (who could afford it) a virtual Aladdin’s cave of great design and international savoir faire.
She despised the drab, post war world of safe beiges and subdued colours, instead creating interiors that were dazzling in their use of colour and execution. Vivid yellows, blues and greens competed with shocking pink glazes and white modernist furniture. Her creative use of colour and innovative designs were not to the taste of everyone, with her design for the Elizabeth Arden Salon in Sydney being redone by another designer within 18 months of her original commission. She herself wrote: “I used to cry about it… they said ‘Marion puts spinach in the paint’. I was terribly hurt, but never doubted what I was doing”. I am glad she didn’t doubt it, however very few of her interiors exist today. She was also commissioned by Hyatt to design the interiors of the new Hyatt Kingsgate in Sydney in 1969. I remember my father taking my brother and I to dinner there in 1976, and remember the lobby as being a wonderfully intimate space, of deep dark reds and browns with a vividly patterned carpet. (Who would have known, that I would one day work in the Hyatt in Front Office, however unfortunately after they had refurbished).

Again not to the taste of everyone, however a definite inclusion into the annals of savoir faire.


  1. It may not be to everyone's taste, but it is to mine. I rememebr this style when it was new and dazzling and I'm convinced that Earo Saarinen tables made me gay, but I had never run across Best, so thanks. What wonderful rooms.

  2. Peenee, I am glad that you love them! I think that they are amazing, considering Australia in the 1960's. As to turning gay, after seeing the table I am glad that you can pinpoint the catylyst

  3. And so practical, too. Lots of shiny, shiny smooth surfaces, so you can do cocaine anywhere, anytime.

  4. Shiny surfaces also eliminate carpet burn


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