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Sierra magazine
Comfort Zone | Smart Designs for Pleasure and Planet

Full Circle

What I Like
The Central Asian nomads who invented yurts moved as their needs demanded. Backcountry winter yurts can be seasonal too, removed each spring to provide a more primitive experience for summer visitors.

Lesson Learned
Fabric yurt windows open from the outside. Yurts built on high platforms need decks so that owners can reach and open windows easily.

I never meant to fall in love with yurts. I took a caretaking job at a retreat center, and a rental yurt was part of the agreement. My cat and I moved into the odd circular structure with its fabric-covered lattice frame and began living in blissful solitude.

The yurt was simple and serene, and the sounds were enchanting. From my fabric home I could hear a rushing mountain creek, trees blowing in the wind, and the occasional coyote serenade. I slept better and dreamed more, and if I woke in the middle of the night, I looked up through the central skylight at an inky black, diamond-studded sky.

After another retreat-center experience (this time in a yurt with a radiant-heat earthen floor), I moved into my own yurt in the mountains of Idaho. Once the platform was built, my family and friends gathered to help raise the structure. It went up in a day.

Some visitors expect to find me living primitively, but my yurts have always been filled with beautiful furnishings and ample amenities. A wood stove keeps my home cozy and warm in the winter, and electricity comes from solar panels. I cook with a propane oven and have a laptop, phone, and Internet access. I use a simple composting toilet, but flush toilets are common in yurts.

Yurts may not be everyone's idea of a primary residence, but they are catching on as vacation homes and guest accommodations. A yurt's price tag is appealing too: $5,000 to $20,000. The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department describes the 190 rental yurts that dot 14 of its coastal parks and 4 inland sites as "16 feet in diameter, filled with comfy furniture, and pointy on top." Who can resist that?

And there's nothing like coming off a hiking or cross-country ski trail into a backcountry yurt, sipping hot chocolate by a wood stove while relaxing with friends, cozy and protected but just a few millimeters of insulated fabric away from the great outdoors that drew you there in the first place.

Becky Kemery is the author of Yurts: Living in the Round (Gibbs Smith, 2006) and maintains a companion Web site,

ON THE WEB What's your idea of a green living or work space? Tell us at

Photos, clockwise: Chris Guibert, Yurtco Manufacturing, DA Creative Photography, GoYurt Shelters; used with permission.



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