The house that freedom built

Yurts: Living in the Round

Yurts: Living in the Round by Becky Kemery, Gibbs Smith, 146 pp, $24.99.

Let’s say you want to resign from the rat race, unplug from the Matrix and start living in harmony with nature. Where to begin?

The quest for freedom can start with buying less stuff, getting out of debt or learning to meet more of your own needs yourself. But for many, the path away from consumerism is blocked by the brick wall of a mortgage. All too often making the payments is modern debt slavery that ties you to a job you may hate and a daily commute that wastes money and time while helping to destroy the planet.

Of course, you can sell or walk away from the house and mortgage and choose one of the cheap, simple dwelling options that are getting more and more attention these days — tiny houses, co-housing, eco-villages.

Or, you can go all Genghis Khan and buy yourself a yurt. If you’ve already got a place to put it, you can move into a round house inspired by Central Asian nomad tents that will help you make the leap to the Simple Life, all for the price of a new car.

And if you want to learn more about this uniquely beautiful, versatile and economical style of dwelling, then you would be hard pressed to find a better guide than Yurts: Living in the Round by Becky Kemery.

Printed art-book style on thick glossy paper and packed with seductive photos of shapely yurts of all physiques pictured from both inside and out, Kemery’s book is dream-house porn for anyone who aspires to simple living.

Kemery, an environmental and permaculture activist who homesteads in northern Idaho, has lived in yurts in three states and runs a yurt fanciers website. She’s well qualified to recount the history of how Turkic üys and Mongol gers came to the West starting in the 1960s, advise you where to find yurts around the US, provide floor plans for a variety of permanent and moveable yurt designs and recount personal stories of seekers who have found happiness living in the round.

In a round about way

Impossibly flexible, yurts can be as rustic or comfortable as their owners want, though don’t expect to see the Kardashians shacking up in a wooden tapered-wall yurt or Circus Circus to open the world’s first modern fabric yurt with pai gow poker, slot machines and a center stage for Siegfried and Roy. That’s because the whole mood of yurts is minimalist, gentle and even a bit spiritual, celebrating the gifts of traditional nomadic peoples to today’s mad, mad, mad, mad world.

“A final gift of the nomads is their intimate sense of connectedness,” Kemery writes of living in a house based on the circle, a shape found often in nature:

The circle is the symbol of interconnectedness, and the yurt makes this very real by creating a space for the family to live together in one large room, all the generations, interacting and creating a sense of tribe and family. Likewise, the viel between inside and outside is much thinner in a yurt; one knows when the wind blows or the temperature drops. The earth is truly underfoot, the night sky is visible through the smoke hole, and a sheep bleating in the middle of the night wakes up the herder.

By contrast, our rectangular houses, based on a shape rarely found in nature, are not only less efficient — both in their use of space and in their use of energy for heating and cooling — but also less congenial to inhabit.

“Boxes are a contrived form that enhances the industrial style of thinking,” says yurt builder John Nance. “They can be aligned and connected, like an organization; the form of the box is very left brain.”

After reading this enchanting book, even if you’re not ready yet to dump the mortgage and move into a round — and possibly portable — house, at least you’ll be more inspired to think outside the box.

— Erik Curren, Transition Voice

You might also enjoy


  1. Auntiegrav says

    Another great read, Eric. Thanks. I agree with your summation also.
    I think though, that “thinking outside the box” means to also think outside the house: to the village. Humans are most in harmony with their abilities when they work together and communicate. Too much of that, and we get cities and marketing infrastructure. Too little, and we are roving savages. Somewhere in between is the village, the tribe. The yurt represents a reconsideration of how we live, but it is also a dream of the independent person and the delusion that “freedom” doesn’t come from a community sharing risk. Trust me, an isolated man or couple with all of the knowledge and skills of living is NOT free. They are scared to death of breaking a leg or getting trapped under a rock with nobody around to help. If they aren’t scared, they are stupid.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *