We Bought a 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.

Less than three months after our fateful camping trip, we bought a yurt-shaped house on Orcas Island.

To the casual observer, this decision might have seemed rash. The Yurt was three and a half hours from Seattle and the only house we visited on a one day tour of vacant lots. We went from car campers to yurt-owners in a matter of weeks. What were we thinking? That’s a good question.

After meeting the Yurt, we both became more infatuated with the idea of having a little place on Orcas. It was all we wanted to talk about and in the abstract, it was rainbows and unicorns. We’d get a cozy place, catch dinner from the sea and live happily-ever-after.

This feeling, of course, was fleeting. While Sachi was full steam ahead, I was bothered by the idea that we could rush into buying property, get locked-in, and then discover a reality we didn’t expect. I worried that the only people we’d know were retirees and vacation rental tenants. I worried that, without a community of people who shared our age, perspective, and interests, we’d never feel truly connected to the island and end up regretting the decision. Visiting the Yurt could become more of an obligation than a desire.

So I started asking around. I asked our realtor and a few people I know on the island. They all said the same thing: The community you’re looking for is here. You will find it, or it will find you. I asked one person our age, who moved in the last year, how long it took before he and his wife made friends. He said, “almost instantaneously.”

I was relieved and at the same time, curious. I didn’t expect this level of confidence. What was going on?

Orcas Island has always been known in the region as a tourist destination and a place where one retires. Living on the island full time, for most people our age, has never been all that practical. It was costly and small and disconnected. Most residents needed to find a job on the island to pay the bills, and full-time, permanent jobs were few and far between. How were so many people in their thirties and forties making it work?

We came to see that Orcas Island was slowly changing and that change may be part of a much bigger picture.

Orcas Island was slowly changing
Source: visitsanjuans.com

Despite the island offering only 57 square miles and having a population of about 4,000, it had far more features and amenities than you’d expect. Along with three grocery stores, a movie theater, cocktail and wine bars, miles of hiking, boating, fishing, etc., it had world-class chefs and restaurants. For an island, it covered the basics and then some.

The problem was that much of the economy was seasonal and based on tourism. To counter this, the residents of the island started working toward creating a year-round economy that worked for everyone. More jobs, affordable housing, etc.

One of the big factors in supporting all kinds of residents was internet connectivity, which has, until recently, been of the frustrating variety for most residents. As I mentioned in a previous update, the Yurt came with a newly buried fiber-optic internet connection that was faster than we could get in Seattle. The Yurt’s neighborhood was one of the first to receive it, and fiber optic connections were slowly but surely reaching new parts of the island. Cell coverage had also improved significantly. So, yay for the internet.

At the same time and from a much bigger perspective, expectations about work were changing. First, there were more remote workers than ever before. It was now possible for people to do the same work they did in the office from the comfort of an internet-connected house (or yurt) on an island. This is especially true for technology workers. Second, there was a growing focus on lifestyle. People seemed to be looking for alternatives to city life and all that went with it.

All these factors gave us a gut feeling that Orcas Island was becoming a more interesting place and attracting people for whom it couldn’t have worked in the past. We had seen the glow and knew it was likely visible from the mainland; a beacon.

The final decision came with a slight sense of urgency. The Yurt was far from a dream home, but we grew to love it and especially the property. It felt like we’d stumbled onto an opportunity we couldn’t pass up and the clock was ticking. If we didn’t act, we risked losing it. That’s our Yurt!

So we did it. We reserved our little corner of the island; a base outside the city from which we could work, play, and hopefully find a new community of our own.


Ready for Rain is  a newsletter that's personal

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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