Goodbye to the Yurt-Shaped House ♻️

By: Lee LeFever

I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.


There was no way around it. To build the new house, our yurt-shaped house on Orcas Island had to go, and this weighed on my mind more than I expected. Sure, I had grown to love it and we’d made memories there, but that didn’t bother me. What I felt was a sense of finality.

Throughout the planning process, there was always an escape hatch. We could simply decide not to build and make the Yurt our home on Orcas. The plans were just that, plans. By moving out and demolishing the Yurt, the hatch would be sealed and we’d be locked into the house project. 

As this lingered in my mind, Sachi was predictably undeterred. From her perspective, we would make the project work, one way or another, and the clock was ticking. The second-guessing was a sideshow. Her confidence helped me over the hump and soon enough, the demise of the Yurt became inevitable. Always forward.

The Yurt, days before demolition
The Yurt, days before demolition

Before demolition could commence, we had to move out. This was move #2 in a matter of months. After moving nearly everything from Seattle to the Yurt, we now had to figure out how to fit it all in the guest house that would be our home for another year or more. Thankfully, Sachi was born to move and planned storage for every square foot of the guest house.

The guest house move
The guest house move

I’ve found that moving is like a filter. Every time I do it, some things make it through and others don’t. This is especially true when moving to smaller and smaller places. In this journey, we moved from a 3500 sq/ft house in the city to a 1500 sq/ft Yurt shaped house to a 500 sq/ft guest house. To make those transitions work, something had to give. And ultimately, giving is what we did. Our filter left a number of items at the Yurt that were up-for-grabs. 

Leading up to the demolition, the island ethos of squeezing value out of everything possible had started to become a larger part of my perspective. While not the finest of specimens, the Yurt did have value and it became a goal to keep as much of that value on the island as we could. Anything that went to a home on Orcas was something we didn’t have to pay to remove, which added to our motivation.

To start the process, Drew contacted a few people to let them know it was now a salvage project. The washer and dryer, couches, a mattress, mirrors, various hardware and more, went to good homes. This included our 1985 Blaze King wood stove, which I was happy to see start a new life.

The Blaze King
The Blaze King

The only thing I needed was the name plate.

the name plate

One person spent a weekend taking apart the garage and salvaging cedar shingles and wood decking from the ceiling. He also cut out a few big beams from the house and created a neat pile at the edge of our property.

wood decking from the ceiling

While we gave away what we could, we salvaged a few things for future projects. For example, we liked the idea of saving the windows and sliding glass doors and using them to build a greenhouse at a later date. We also salvaged the hog wire from the deck railings for use in the garden.

Windows for future use
Windows for future use

With the Yurt stripped, we considered if it could be moved or disassembled for reuse. Some houses can be cut in half and moved on a truck or barge. A few people came through to take a look and decided it would be nearly impossible. The whole structure was held together by a metal cable, kind of like the ring around a barrel. Once the cable was snapped, the whole structure loses integrity and would eventually collapse. Further, the building was designed to sit on an unfinished basement that couldn’t be moved.

Over ten days, the Yurt became a shell of itself and that became apparent the first time we departed without locking the door. It wasn’t ours anymore. It had a gaping hole in the ceiling from the wood stove, missing windows and doors, no railings on the deck and no life. It felt depleted and abandoned, which was a sign we’d done what we could.

Where the Blaze King lived since 1985
Where the Blaze King lived since 1985

Within minutes of the deer fence coming down, the deer decided to move in to devour all the tasty plants they had watched grow from the outside. The property was theirs, once again.

I’ll never forget the last afternoon we spent at the Yurt on the day before demolition began. We sat on the deck with a couple of ciders, with our legs hanging over the edge where railings used to be, and tried to soak up what we could from the experience. We looked out over the water knowing that it was something we’d never experience again, in that configuration. 

over the water

The Yurt-shaped house that came into our lives two years before was about to breathe its last breath. The next day, it would all go away and once again, we’d be moving forward, always forward.

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On most Tuesdays, I share a story from my life on Orcas Island and a recommendation for something I love. I'm interested in how to design work and home for lifestyle, livability, and fluffy dogs. Learn more.

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