Creative toolboxes

Eamon O'KaneEamon O’Kane created the interactive commission – Creative Toolboxes – for the new Saffron Gardens care home.  How did he go about making this work? What inspired and motivated him? He tells us about it:

Encouraging interaction and engagement

“My project for the interactive commission was to construct four purpose-built movable wooden cabinets, one for each residential unit. The cabinets contain a series of abstract and figurative wooden and woolen objects inspired by research into dementia and dialogue with staff and residents.  Staff and residents can work with these multidimensional objects on the tops of the cabinets or the items can be constructed into mobiles for display in resident’s rooms or elsewhere in the building.

The cabinets also contain audio playing equipment, which connect wirelessly with headphones and speakers, enabling residents to listen to music, poetry, ambient sounds and audio books.

Photography © Max  McClure

Photography © Max

I also made four paintings on wood, one for each of the four trees after which the residential units are named.  These paintings will be placed near to the cabinets; each cabinet will have a specific home within each unit (chosen carefully by myself and staff) – one that highlights its presence and reminds staff to use it.

The inspiration for the project – research and dialogue

25My initial research for this commission involved reading a number of texts about dementia and dementia care.  This was followed by discussions with staff, prompting continued research and experimentation.  I then conducted workshops with staff and residents and used the inspiration from the workshops to develop the work further.  I also continually responded to suggestions and observations made by the committee and this dialogue further developed the work.

Sketches, maquettes and models made in the studio developed into the production of the final finished objects.  I also had the opportunity to test out these objects during the workshops with staff and residents and this influenced my studio process.

One result of research and dialogue with staff was the decision to produce a small handmade booklet/manual in a multiple of 8, which will provide suggestions for use of the cabinets by staff and residents. This manual includes diagrams of how to assemble structures and suggestions of themes to employ with the residents.

The finished artworks

My intention for these artworks is to enable residents, visitors and staff to sit and work with these thoughtfully-constructed colourful objects, whose creation references ideas of nature, design and play – at the same time as listening to music.


The cabinets are designed to be simple, versatile, portable and familiar whilst triggering conversations, physical activity, memory and imagination.  The objects within them relate in a very direct and uncomplicated way to many subjects, including science, storytelling, mathematics, geometry, mineralogy, nature, architecture, design, and childhood.”