Over a Coffee . . . with Neil Pace O’ Shea – Founder of The Floating Project

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Tell me a bit about you…where you live, your study, what you do in life…

I have always been interested in the design and creating industry. Making things and interpreting my thoughts into physical objects has been a part of my childhood, my studies and even my past and present jobs. I studied at MCAST (Art & Design) before focusing my studies in Interior Architecture and Design at The University for the Creative Arts in England. I spent five years there studying and working in the industry before moving back home to settle down and today my full-time job is teaching at MCAST’s Institute for the Creative Arts.

Wanting to create, I turned to the product design sector and today, I spend most of my spare time in the workshop.

I am married to Vanessa with whom I have spent every adventure over the past 15 years. We met while still students on the same course and now also both teach at MCAST. We have a young daughter who occupies the remaining hours of my day. Any spare time is enjoyed out at sea on my kayak.

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How did The Floating Project start? What inspired this?

The Floating Project is a personal project which is influenced by my need to create and interpret my personal ideas and is probably the most ambitious of my ideas but also the most successful one. It is an opportunity which I created for myself to experiment with ideas and develop 3D-based projects centred heavily around product design that is also functional.

Having a workshop was necessary in order to prototype and manufacture such creations, a space where I could develop projects that otherwise would not be privately commissioned when working in the commercial product design industry. The Floating Project is not just about kayaks but includes a variety of smaller products and items that many times can be bought as gifts.

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What were the main challenges you encountered at first?

Challenges were countless, from finding and renting the workshop which is not cheap to sourcing the ideal materials available to work with locally. Besides that, I had never built a kayak before and therefore understanding how a kayak is built involved learning a whole new set of skills. It took me two and a half years and 9 full-scale prototypes to develop the final design!

Funding these prototypes was another big challenge to overcome as everything was self-funded. However, taking things step by step and believing in my ability helped me overcome most challenges. Eventually, things do get easier especially with the necessary machinery and skills.

What was your very first tangible creation and how did that make you feel?

The kayak was the first major tangible project. The first of 9 prototypes left me with a mix of emotions. They were an accomplishment but they also highlighted the numerous challenges and problems that lay ahead and which still needed to be solved. Once the final prototype was complete and the positive feedback started flowing in, I sat back to enjoy the accomplishment. Of course, completing such a demanding project now helps me face less complex projects with more confidence.

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What makes you believe in what you do?

Putting aside the many moments of questioning and self-doubt, I learnt the approach that unless I try, I definitely won’t achieve what I set out to achieve. The worst thing that can happen? I might waste a bit of time, energy and resources, but I would have still learned a lot. Ultimately, inventing, designing and creating things is what I love doing most. The challenges just make all the experience more worth overcoming.

Where are you seeing this activity going? Is it just something on the side or are you planning something bigger?

At the moment this is a side project. Something that is giving me an opportunity to learn about the industry while building the necessary experiences, contacts and resources. In the meantime, a much bigger project is currently being developed which will hopefully come to fruition in the next couple of years. At this stage not much can be revealed as it is work in progress, but the approach will be on the same lines as that of The Floating Project.

Tell me about your canoes? How did that come about and how long does it take you to build one?

A few summers back, I came across a video tutorial on how to build a wooden kayak. Naively enough I thought this could be quite easy and saw an opportunity to tap into a non-existent industry locally. It was hard work but existing technologies, materials and techniques helped me give the kayak a more contemporary aesthetic.

All our wooden kayaks are handmade, built from start to finish in our workshop and they take a whole month to build. Each model is built on order and according to the customer’s tastes. We are in control of everything from the cutting and building of the wooden shell to the resin, paint and finishing if each kayak. It is a true work of handmade craftmanship.

Are you getting commissioned? Have you met business interest?

Our wooden kayaks put us in a very niche market and the people who buy them, do so out of a pure appreciation for the craftsmanship involved in building them. Having said that, such a product can never be commercialized or mass-produced even though the response has been very positive. If every individual that contacted us for details (both locally and abroad) had to commission a kayak, we would be building kayaks for the next five years!

If time, money or resources were not an issue, what would be your dream project?

My dream project would be to strengthen this platform of creativity to constantly develop new individual products that would find themselves on the market and eventually be used and appreciated by the masses.


Let’s Get Personal:

Your favourite time of day: 4:30am – when I wake up to spend a couple of hours in the workshop before going to work.

A low point in your life: Leaving England to settle in Malta.

Your favourite colour: Grey

Any regret? No regrets. Though I wish I started The Floating project earlier in life.

How do you like your coffee? Black with two sugar in winter.


Over a Coffee is produced by James Vella Clark for Corporate Dispatch 

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