Pleasure Craft: The Balmain Boat Company

Sydney designer Andrew Simpson's do-it-yourself kits means anyone can build and float their own boat.

To be able to mend, or even build, household items was once common; now many would red-facedly admit their DIY skills are limited to sewing on a button and using an Allen key. Sydney industrial designer Andrew Simpson, of Vert Design, believes it doesn’t have to be that way.

“I love the prospect of engaging people with building something with their hands again. Everything is built by someone at some point – it’s about not being afraid to get in there and get something done.”

I really believe in inspiring people to make something they think is too hard.

Simpson hopes to inspire people to tackle creative projects with his latest venture – the Balmain Boat Company, a new business producing build-your-own-boat kits. The design of the wooden clinker-built boats is a romanticised blend of ’40s-style rowboat with the contemporary clean lines and neat edges of computer-led wood-cutting. At 2.3 metres, they are big enough to fit three adults but small enough to pop on the roofracks of a small car. 

Cheaper and better-looking than your average tinny, the boats bring a stylish water lifestyle well within reach. While the prospect of owning your own boat is attractive, the DIY aspect sounds daunting. Simpson, however, is confident he has designed the kit so that the project is easily achievable by even the most unhandy people.

“I really believe in inspiring people to make something they think is too hard. And that’s why we chose the boat as a project. It seems impossible at the outset, but we’ve made it very simple. If you can hammer a nail and ice a cake, then you can do this.”

Cutting the pieces is the most challenging part of any building project, says Simpson, so all of the 42 plywood pieces in the kit come fully cut. The kit arrives by courier, flat-packed with essentials – nails, sealant and other bits and pieces. Boatbuilders need to bring their own hammer, corking gun, electric drill and marine paint to complete the project. 

Accessibility was a key consideration. “Through the design process I was thinking ‘Is this stage too awkward? Will they look clumsy?’” says Simpson. “I don’t want someone to look like a goose when they are putting it together!” A growing Facebook community is on hand with tips and the website has videos and an instruction booklet. 

For those worried about ending up with a boat under water, Simpson cites his business partner, Nicole Steel, who recently built one of the boats. “Nicole is a very intelligent woman, but she didn’t know how to hold a hammer. Everyone said she couldn’t do it. But I showed her the basic skills and she got it done by herself. She then rowed out to Cockatoo Island and hasn’t stopped talking about it. That is what we want to share. I make hundreds of things a year, but nothing really compares to the joy of being out on the water in your own boat.”

This story was first published in Vogue Living Sept/Oct 2011. Click here to download a PDF of the original story. Photograph courtesy of Chris Court.