Design for independence


Interior designer Debbie Rooney has just finished three apartments in Kiltimagh for people with intellectual disabilities

Ger Flanagan

TWENTY years ago Debbie Rooney and her husband, Mark, left their good jobs in Leinster House to follow their heart and move to the beautiful west, eventually settling in the picturesque town of Newport.
Looking back on the decision right now, she can only get nervous at the idea: 24 years old, leaving a secure job working for then-senator Shane Ross, to move to an area neither she nor her husband had real connections to.
However, at the time, the couple visited Mark’s Mulranny-based brother quite regularly, and every time they would return to the east, their fondness grew larger for the west Mayo area, until they eventually made the plunge.
As it turned out, the couple were correct to follow their dreams. Because right now they live in a beautiful home with their four children, and Debbie is working in what she says is her dream job.
An employee with the Western Care Association for close to two decades now, Debbie’s life-long passion is architecture and interiors. She recently returned to education, studying with the Interior Design Association of Ireland, which paved the way for her to use her new skills with her current employers on a project called Forest View, located just outside Kiltimagh.
Forest View is a new development of three apartments that offer each occupant an individually designed living environment based on their personal needs and preferences.  Each person has their own self-contained, fully equipped apartment. The building was designed to promote independence and informed by Western Care Association’s commitment and principle to provide person-centered services and supports.
“It was fantastic to be asked to get involved because I was doing a little bit of private work and consultations on interior design,” Debbie told The Mayo News. “So last August, Western Care were undertaking this project which was to renovate an existing house into three separate apartments, to offer three individuals with intellectual disabilities their own living space and independence.
“This would be based on their personal needs and preferences and completely individualised to them. It was great to be asked to help out, because I thought I might have to leave Western Care to use my new skills.”

SO Debbie got to work instantly. However, a huge barrier stood in her way before her she could even begin to get creative: budget.
All the funds assigned for the development were to be spent on the capital works and essentials; interior design was not included. Debbie had to try to raise the funds herself, relying on the generosity of the public. She took to social media for donations.
The response, she says, was phenomenal.
“With a project like this, I just put it out there on my Instagram account to see if anybody or artist or creator would like to donate,” she said. “The response was just amazing.
“I’ve had artwork donated from local artists and as far away as Dubai! I had different lighting fittings donated from a company called Copperfish Lighting [based in Wicklow], which are all really expensive from an interior-design point of view.
“The likes of Albany in Castlebar have been incredible too, as have a company called Scatter Box who gave us things like cushions and curtains, all of which have really allowed me to make these apartments individual.
“So much stuff was shipped to us, no questions asked.”
The project was completed in time for the two men and one woman to spend last Christmas in their new homes.
From Debbie’s perspective, she envisioned each living space to be vibrant, colourful, and reflecting each person’s individual interests, so that the settling in period would be an easy experience.
“I wanted these to be like how anyone’s home would be, but to add a bit of colour,” she said. “I want to ‘Ban the Beige’ and get rid of Magnolia – I’m on a mission to bring colour because people are so afraid of it.
“This was an opportunity to change the normal setting that we might have been used to in an intellectual disability area, and anyone that has been to these apartments can’t get over how homely they are.
“One gentleman loves water, so we got a special shower for him. One gentleman loves animals, so I was aware of an artist in Dublin called Debbie Chapman and she gave a beautiful painting of a dog for his space.
“I’m a big fan of art and artwork, and I really think it has added another dimension to it.”
Social Media
THE project has provided Debbie with a new-found appreciation for social media and the positives that it can bring through the right usage.
After floating the idea on her Instagram account, she says she was inundated with deliveries from businesses and crafts people who wanted to help out and make this project a success.
Without the generosity of the people and her social media account, Debbie explained, Forest View would not have been possible.
“This has really showed the power of social media in a positive light. Big budgets are not a luxury in this sector, so I had to rely on people, and it was fantastic. People with popular Instagram accounts were sharing it, and people were getting on board, and it really helped make the apartments individual. People really seemed to get behind the basis of the project and what it was for … It’s wonderful to be part of it, and for three people having their own apartments at Christmas… They’re so happy in there.”

Spreading colour
DEBBIE has now set up her own interior-design company, called Poolbeg Interior Design, and she is slowly building her brand, providing consultancy on colours and interiors.
Her colourful home has been featured three times in House and Home magazine, and she’s now on a mission to spread her appreciation and love for colour in the family setting.
“I feel that when you walk into someone’s home you should see their personality,” she said. “People are spending more and more time at home, and I just think that people are afraid of colour and have been for a long time.
“From the outside our home looks like a normal bungalow, but inside it’s not; it’s very individual to us. Our childrens’ friends love coming to look at the house.
“Certainly the taxidermy on the walls isn’t for everyone, and not everyone wants to have a black ceiling in their kitchen like we do, but a lot of time and effort has gone into it and we love it.”

For more information, visit or find @poolbeg.designs on Instagram.