Published on October 29, 2019

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Photo by Bryan Aulick

After a year spent living on the road, traveling around the country in a van he had renovated to function as his mobile home, Zach Both decided it was time to put down roots. But he wasn’t quite ready to abandon his days spent close to nature for something totally traditional. The way he bid farewell to his nomadic lifestyle was, ironically, by building a structure that was historically largely used by nomads; Both and his girlfriend, Nicole Lopez, constructed a yurt.

While the structure is a glamping mainstay, it can be used for everyday life, too. A yurt-building kit will get you started, but if you want to make it more of a home and less of an extra-large tent, you’ll have to invest money and time (in the case of Both and Lopez, six months) into installing proper plumbing and electricity, putting up drywall, and picking out 100 or so plants to really make it feel like a breath of fresh air. With all that effort behind him, Both is convinced that more people should attempt yurt life (which is why he documented the process for his DoItYurtself guide). Here, he explains why. 

Yurts Are the Ultimate DIY Project

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After renovating the camper van, Both felt prepared to build a yurt, but still, it was daunting in the beginning. “When we showed up to the land that we were going to be building this on, it was overgrown with blackberries and just a pile of dirt,” he says. But as it turns out, the project isn’t that intimidating in practice.

Both bought his yurt kit from Rainier Outdoor, then set to work creating the platform it would sit on—a process that required him (and a few friends and family members) to dig holes for 12 concrete footings by hand. They were able to get the exterior structure up in just one weekend, even though most everyone involved had hardly any construction experience beyond assembling IKEA furniture. “Once it was done, we all pulled out our sleeping bags and slept in the completely empty yurt to celebrate,” Both says.

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Over the next few months, they completed the more arduous tasks: adding the loft, modern appliances, and furniture that made it into a home. Though arduous, Both says the satisfaction afterward is incomparable: “The experience of building your own living space, whether it’s a yurt or a van or a tiny house or even a regular house, fundamentally changes not only how you look at your own home, but how you look at the buildings around you. You notice all the little construction details everywhere you go and start to appreciate them a lot more.”

They’re Easy to Customize

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Bohemian or rustic design details may come to mind most frequently when you think of yurts, but Both and Lopez wanted a space that, although nontraditional in structure, felt modern. The toughest challenge was making it feel less like a tent and more like a home—but the solution was quite simple. 

IKEA cabinets made for a clean, contemporary kitchen that you’d find in any regular apartment, and limiting the color palette kept the space streamlined—a sharp contrast to the typical warm tones and unfinished wood you might find in a less permanent yurt. A simple coat of white paint to the yurt’s signature lattice was all it took to help the skeleton blend in with the rounded walls.

They’re Really Not That Small

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While yurts might appeal to people who dream of downsizing (or, like Both, those who find appeal in #VanLife), they’re actually pretty spacious. “This yurt is the size of my first apartment,” he says. “I think the main attraction is not necessarily small living but alternative living.”

Staying in a yurt gives Both and Lopez the chance to live in close proximity to the great outdoors (which is pretty picturesque in their location of Portland, Oregon)—indoors and out. While the whole space is filled with hard-to-kill plants, their loft bedroom takes the cake. “It’s like our own little oasis on the top,” he says. “Especially when we wake up to the sunshine coming through the dome.”

Maybe it’s time to reconsider that tiny home in favor of something a little more well-rounded—literally.

See more small spaces:
Finally, Tiny Homes That Come With Millennial-Approved Furnishings
This Might Be the Easiest Way to Embrace the Tiny-Home Life
We Built a Tiny House as an Affordable Solution to SF Living—Now It’s Our Dream Home

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