2014 is the Year of the Yurt, the round house that’s by the most popular special accommodation type on Airbnb. To help you find the right yurt for a night, we’ve created a yurt matchmaking guide—but once you’re ready to settle down and make a round house your home–or even erect one on your own property—you may want a few more tips. Just what do you do with a round space in a world of straight sided furniture?
Round space planning
According to yurt dwellers, “living in the round” isn’t a just logistical shift, it’s a philosophical one. Corners have earned a bad rap as gloomy dead spaces where dust gathers and naughty children are punished. Remove those corners, and the living space instantly feels more generous. There’s nowhere for dust bunnies to hide and no place to sulk in a yurt. Light fills the entire space, inviting vast, leisurely stretches of the imagination.
But you’ll need all that imagination when it comes to space planning. Since most commercially available beds and sofas are rectilinear rather than circular, furnishing a yurt can be as frustrating as trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Yet yurt dwellers embrace this challenge. Instead of trying to hang flatscreen TVs on round walls, they opt for suitably circular entertainment: a record player, bongos, a dart board. Anything round is subject to repurposing as yurt furniture, so barrels and baskets are natural end table options. Oddly shaped furniture that might seem eccentric elsewhere fits right into a yurt, whether it’s an egg-shaped pouf, extra-plump fainting couch, or triangular swinging sofa.
There’s a hole in the roof—on purpose
Modern yurts are adapted from the Mongolian ger, a nomadic round house made of felted yak wool with an opening at the top. Traditionally food was cooked indoors, so this central skylight doubled as a chimney. They might have stayed that way, but a 1962 National Geographic article on Mongolia sparked the imagination of Yurt Foundation founder William Copperthwaite, known to those who swung hammers alongside him as Bill (present company included).
Bill adapted the yurt for modern living around the world, constructing them from canvas or wood instead of heavy felt, and replacing smoky campfires with wood-burning stoves. The central skylight is now often capped with a Plexiglas bubble to keep out the rain without dimming the stars. Curtaining a skylight would block the light, but you might want to think about where the sun shines in the morning before you install the bed—not all yurt dwellers are early risers.
It really ties the room together
Some yurt dwellers go the extra 6000 miles for authenticity, sourcing the traditional furnishings you’d get in a real Mongolian ger. A hand-painted Mongolian canopy bed is a nice amenity, but you don’t have to go quite that far for the comforts of home. All you need to tie your eclectic yurt décor together is a rug. You could take the traditional approach, with Central Asian rugs on the floors and the walls—or you could go New World nomad, and showcase Navajo rugs in your Malibu yurt. A carpet hung from a rod makes a plush bedstead, and sheepskins strewn about keep yurts cozy in winter.
But where’s the bathroom?
The central lightwell and open plan of a yurt are two of its key architectural assets, so many yurt owners are reluctant to subdivide the space. But when it comes to basic bodily functions, a yurt’s lack of privacy can be an issue. An interior wall built off to one side of the lightwell can offer privacy and hide unsightly bathroom plumbing, as in this Colorado yurt. Since sound carries and steam rises under high yurt ceilings, many yurt dwellers prefer to adjourn to an outhouse and enjoy an outdoor shower—better yet, a hot tub.
Every yurt is an architectural rebel at heart, with that hole in the ceiling, round layout, random rugs instead of coordinated paint schemes, and open-air showers that let the sun shine where it usually doesn’t. But why not take it a step farther? Many yurt dwellers extend the yurt floor beyond the walls to create a wraparound deck, blurring the boundaries between indoors and outdoors. You could turn your interior decor inside out, with a kitchen on the patio, indoor screen partitions made from twigs and a birch tree coat rack. But you’re not required to go rustic: tiki torches may light the way from your yurt to a magnificent pool or sleek outdoor bar. All it takes is one night in a yurt to realize that rules are meant to be broken—or at least gently bent—to make more room for surprise and delight.
BYOY (Build your own yurt)
Yes, you. Many yurts are temporary structures that do not require special building permits, and a basic plan is available for less than US$100 from the Yurt Foundation. With a plan, materials and a dozen friends, you may be able to construct your dream yurt in a matter of weeks. For advice, consult the builders at Yurt Forum.