Pimp my yurt?
March 9, 2009 4:18 PM   Subscribe

How can I make my yurt time special?

What should I do with my new yurt?

I just moved into a tiny yurt, about 10 feet by 10 feet big and 6 feet tall. It's made of wood and sits in the West Virginia mountains. The ceiling is slanted, so there is crouching to get in and out of it. It's the smallest place I've ever lived, and I'll be living it for another six months. Does anyone have ideas for making it both more functional and / or special? There are a few small quirks:

1) It's drafty. There are many gaps in the boards, since the boards are set together and it's only one layer thick. I've thought about covering the walls in old blankets, cloth, or just tarping it, but I might just try to tough it out until spring.

2) There is storage space underneath the yurt, but it's not waterproof.

What would you do to make a small space with low ceilings feel like home? I have almost no carpentry skills, but I'd be willing to try simple projects. Are there any other ways that people have made their small, non-traditional spaces fun to be in?
I can give more specs on my new pad if people would like. Also, I do not have electricity. There is a larger yurt that has a kitchen, library, etc., so my smaller yurt is mostly like my bedroom.

Any and all suggestions welcomed, from the weird to the practical.

posted by ajarbaday to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Dan Price lived similarly for some time. I read his book a while ago but you might find it interesting.
posted by thewestinggame at 4:35 PM on March 9, 2009

Contact paper with a dry-erase surface for drawing/thinking wherever you have wall (even ceiling?) space... Make origami creatures to hang from the ceiling... Comfortable seating for reading or whatever you like to do when you're alone... Some kind of efficient and safe lighting system... sounds like fun!
posted by ecsh at 4:40 PM on March 9, 2009

i guess mitigating the drafts in your yurt depend on how much you are allowed to modify the place. are you renting this place, or own it. Do i understand correctly that the walls are just bare wood planks standing next to one another?

If so i would tarp the outside, and perhaps cover the inside with super thick eggcrate foam like you might find in a sound studio. both are simple to install, and simple to remove. Would probably go a long way to making your place warmer.

take a look at Pacific Yurts. I grew up in the small oregon town where these are manufactured, and knew the guy who owned the company. Check out the gallery section for what i mean when i mention covering the outside with tarp-like material.
posted by Bohemia Mountain at 4:54 PM on March 9, 2009

Definitely cover your walls with rugs and blankets - being chilly and miserable will not endear you to your space. I lived in a stone apartment without electricity for two months and the only reason I survived it is because I was never there. I loved the candlelight, the balcony picnics, but the cold drove me to couch surf with friends until I could move.

Also, hanging rugs and blankets on your walls will muffle sound and add a bit of color and quirkiness to your walls. A three-fold benefit.

I have a ten-by-ten shed that I would like to use as an outdoor studio, so I've got a wishlist of solutions for LED lighting with cheap solar panels, hand crank radios, etc. That may not be the vibe you're going for, though. If it is, Amazon has cheap panels for charging laptops and light electronics that you can use with LED string lights.
posted by annathea at 5:06 PM on March 9, 2009

I'd line the place from floor to ceiling with rugs and fabrics like they use in bedouin tents. Warm and inviting! I'm also a huge fan of this L.L. Bean ultralight sleeper chair. Your room won't be cluttered in the day, and it doubles as an excellent place to read and study. Good luck!
posted by aquafortis at 5:14 PM on March 9, 2009

i would construct shelves, and fill them with whatever natural curiosities you find in the wilderness. may i ask how one finds themselves living in a yurt for six months? i would kill for such an opportunity
posted by Think_Long at 6:45 PM on March 9, 2009

Your non-waterproof storage space will be more useful with some big Rubbermaid-type storage totes. DO NOT KEEP FOOD IN THEM — animals will get in, one way or another, and then your non-food stuff will get fucked up too. My experience from camping is that animals also like to get into toilet paper, some kinds of scented soap and lotion and such, and, oddly, condoms. But spare clothing, bedding, etc. can all go in the totes, and keeping that stuff clean and dry is a big quality-of-living boost.

And yes, definitely fix the drafts. Warm is important. Even come spring, it'll matter: I'd expect it to be chilly at night in the mountains well into early summer, and even 50° or so feels awfully cold after you've been sitting still in it for a little while.

For me, if I'm camping for more than a day or two, artificial lighting is the big thing that makes it feel like home — it's really astonishing how comforting it is, and how much we take it for granted ordinarily. Plus, sooner or later you'll have practical reasons to want to see at night, or you'll get bored and want to read, or something. If you aren't into electrical lights, get candles for indoors (with something sturdy and fireproof to put 'em on) and maybe tiki torches or a fire ring for outdoors.

Another thing that becomes really important if you're living without electricity is music. If there's an instrument you're even just OK at, bring it. (You'll get better.) If you don't play anything, bring a drum or something. (You'll learn.) At very least, bring some books of lyrics for the stuff you like, and sing a lot. Like light, music is homey and comforting and makes it easier to stave off boredom during a long night.

Books too, for that matter. Even if you're not a big book-reader normally, the fact that you're on Metafilter means you're probably accustomed to having something light to read whenever you want. Plan ahead for other ways to fill that gap.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:00 PM on March 9, 2009

Since you asked this question, my ideas assume that you have at least intermittent internet access and perhaps a laptop to watch movies:

You could watch Taiga, a documentary about mongolian nomads that includes several pretty sweet yurts. Lots of yurt decorating ideas in there. Also lots of throat singing, which you can learn from the course in the last link.
posted by umbú at 8:02 PM on March 9, 2009

Insulate, insulate, insulate! Even a bunch of surplus wool army blankets staple-gunned around the inside will do a world of good.

Low small spaces call for changes in furnishings - you don't need legs on anything, or not legs as tall as usual. So no typical chairs, but how about a beanbag chair or folded futon?
No typical table, but a low coffee table. That kind of thing?

Also, I'm intrigued by your description that there is space under the yurt - I'm used to them being build on the ground. If there is room, and you can make an opening in the floor that's not too drafty, you could try an old Japanese method - instead of putting a table up on legs so you can get under it, try making a hole in the floor under the table and putting your legs under that (think of a picnic table, but where the benches are on the ground and your feet are in a hole under it). Put a heater in the hole and your tootsies stay toasty (as long as the hole is not wet or drafty)!

As for keeping things dry and critter-free, look into "gamma seal" lids; they go onto those sturdy plastic contractor's buckets and make a watertight airtight seal - I've kept birdseed outdoors in them and never had a leak or a critter get into them. Your hardware store person should know what they are.
posted by bartleby at 8:37 PM on March 9, 2009

If you're connecting to the outside world every few days long enough to at least re-charge, what about a Kindle? Books! All the time! For cheap!
posted by DarlingBri at 8:44 PM on March 9, 2009

Plastic tarps will stop the drafts, and are very cost-effective (but ugly). After the tarps (on the inside of the tent, of course, or the wind in the plastic will prevent sleep!), you can decorate the walls with rugs, carpets, hangings, blankets, whatever...

The plastic boxes will make good storage underfloor, but DO NOTE the advice to keep food separate from other goods. Seal the lids with either weights (bricks), or tape (which would need to be reapplied after each opening, ick), to keep them from becoming shelter for critters.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:13 PM on March 9, 2009

We've a Pacific Yurt. It's thin canvasy-type material (no draughts, as it's a continuous run of material) and PY sold it with bubblewrap as interior insulation for walls and roof. Bubblewrap's better than nothing, but cold nights get very cold, and it gets pretty hot in the sun. If ours was 10' instead of 20' I'd cover all the walls with blankets over the bubblewrap, instead of just some parts. Put as much insulation around as you can, and include the roof and the floor. Rather than tarps, I'd try to get some tyvek house wrap from a contractor.

I didn't see mention of your heating, lighting, etc., but a fire extinguisher is reassuring in a small wood house.

Another option for keeping warm is to hang fabric as a tent round your bed to keep it cosier. And my favorite is an electric overblanket. Before the electric blanket I wore a coat and beanie with two sleeping bags.
posted by anadem at 11:42 PM on March 9, 2009

To make the most out of the space, keep the center of the room clear. Have a place for everything. I'd avoid storing anything underneath: it seems like a good way to have things ruined after a bad bout of weather. Having less stuff will make it easier to keep it clean and clutter free.
posted by Monday at 11:49 PM on March 9, 2009

I would definitely line it with beautiful fabrics, and put a small rug on the floor so it's like a bedouin tent - nice stuff can often be found at second-hand stores, and if it's bought cheaply, you won't mind if it gets dirty or torn - blankets, sarongs, old saris, - anything bright - just staple it up to the walls, and it will feel warm and luxurious. do you have a window? a small plant hung in it will also add life and warmth.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:13 AM on March 10, 2009

I've spent time in yurts in a number of different cultures. All of them have had lot of rugs, wall covering and other hangings that served to decorate as well as insulate.

The Kyrgyz people I stayed with usually kept their food tied in a plastic tarp bundle on the roof. Most had a stove in the middle and a chest of drawers. Sleeping and eating was done on the floor. Usually when eating on the floor a plastic sheet was put down as a sort of table cloth.
posted by Bunglegirl at 9:03 AM on March 10, 2009

Will there be mosquitos? You can get mosquito netting that hags from a big wire form, that would be kind of cool inside a yurt.
posted by theora55 at 9:53 AM on March 10, 2009

Response by poster: Hey, thanks for all the answers!

I got to be living in a yurt by signing up for an outdoor education program, so I'll be working with children and camping outdoors for at least a good portion of time. I can give you the name of the program through Mefi Mail if you'd like. So I'm not too worried about staying occupied or being bored. I would mostly just like to make living space comfortable and unique.

I'm definitely going to keep an eye out for blankets next time I can get down to town. The contact paper is an interesting idea, although I'm a little worried about rain damage through the gaps in the wood panelling. Also, will blankets make it stifling hot in summertime?

Comfortable seating is a good idea. One thing I've been thinking about is trying to get into making primitve furniture (out of twigs and stuff) that would match my already quite rustic living situation. But that may or may not be beyond my current skills. I've started to think about a mobile to hang outside, too. I'm also probably gonna work on some stone steps to my yurt. We'll see how those projects go.. I am not the craftiest person I know. Again I should add that my space is really really small. The bed that came with the yurt takes up about a third of the space. If I knew how to construct a bench that would fit the contour of the yurt, that might work, but otherwise most regular sized furniture would probably be an obstacle. Coffee table and comfy cushions might work.

I like the suggestions for lighting. Tiki torches might be fun on my deck. I'm also working on my harmonica skills.

I'm gonna have to check out the documentary Taiga. Thanks for the tip.

Thanks all for suggestions - keep 'em coming if you get any other ideas! I can get internet a mile down the road from my pad, which gives me a good fix.
posted by ajarbaday at 5:58 PM on March 11, 2009

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