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All-Canadian yurt a tonic for the city-dwelling soul

Maybe you're into homesteading and want to live gently on the land while farming it. Or you've inherited some acreage that you're going to develop … slowly. Perhaps cottage guests have become bountiful – lucky you – and you need a bunkhouse. Maybe an art or yoga studio is in your future.

A yurt, says Patrick Ladisa, can fill the bill for all of these.

A decade ago, says Mr. Ladisa, president of all-Canadian yurt-maker, the Mongolian-inspired, sturdy-yet-collapsible tents usually were sold to "hard-core," live-off-the-grid types who would throw them up, light their wood stoves and let their beards grow. He notes that more recently, however, yurts are more likely to arrive at the cottage in the back of a minivan (yes, they fit), where, in a couple of hours, they're ready to perform as extra bedrooms, meditation huts or swim-shacks by the water's edge.

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"The sky kind of is the limit," boasts Mr. Ladisa. "What would you do with 226 square feet of totally portable, year-round, load-bearing shelter?"

There's something about these little structures, it seems, that appeals to both sets of people. Maybe it's the lack of corners, which soothes grizzled counterculture souls and soccer moms alike, or the fact that they're much larger than they seem.

While even the 5.2-metre (17-feet) diameter Yurta looks quaint and Lilliputian at 50 paces, inside is a different story: Illuminated from an operable acrylic dome overhead and sets of big zippered windows, the room feels wonderfully spacious. The absence of a vanishing point has something to do with this – think of infinity walls used by photographers – but the quality of light contributes as well: Diffused and softened by the dome, it falls onto the soft, felt walls and warm, ash lattice frame evenly and gently. With no harsh shadows or corners, a sense of quiet, of peace, is easy to achieve.

Perhaps this is a physical manifestation of the love that has gone into the Yurta design, which was first developed a decade ago by Anissa Szeto and Marcin Padlewski in the Ottawa area, then refined in the hamlet of Greenwood, Ont., just north of Pickering, where the company is located today. While some have Westernized their yurts by adding sliding glass windows, steel doors and a vinyl outer shell, and others have taken the easy route of importing product straight from Mongolia, the Yurta crew, says Mr. Ladisa, "do everything in the exact opposite way of North American yurt-makers."

For starters, they use as many natural materials as possible, such as the breathable, cotton-duck canvas walls that allow moisture to escape (these are sewn at the little coach house in Greenwood). They've engineered a unique way for the latticework frame to lock into place, and they've developed their own metal connector pieces rather than MacGyvering something from the big-box hardware store. They've kept true to the "nomadic tradition" by ensuring the user can "put this up without turning a screw or hammering a nail," says Mr. Ladisa.

Most important, however, Yurta employs only local sub-trades, such as the Spencerville– and Oshawa-based carpenters who make the doors, and they use only Canadian-made parts. Well, almost: "Everything that you see in this yurt is sourced between here and Ottawa, with one exception, and that's our zippers: We can't find a good-quality zipper in Canada."

This means, of course, that there are cheaper yurts on the market, but Mr. Ladisa isn't about to cave and sign on with a Chinese manufacturer: "Can we make it the same quality?" he asks rhetorically. "That's not the point of what we're doing."

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The smaller, 3.9-metre (13-foot) diameter Yurta starts at just under $7,000. Moving to the larger 5.2-metre model with seven-foot-high walls (the company also offers six-foot-high walls) and adding full insulation brings the price to about $12,500.

While this may seem like a lot of money for what is, essentially, just a tent, there is no reason that owners can't expect a few decades of service, says Mr. Ladisa – provided, of course, that they don't abuse it and they don't mind shelling out for a new outer shell in about 10 years. "We think these are the best fabrics available, but they're the one thing that won't last," he admits.

For a shelter that's quick to erect, easy on the eyes, and supplies a tonic for concrete-and-steel hardened psyches, maybe it's downright cheap. Also, there's something appealing about owning a hut that you can pack up and move elsewhere if the mood strikes – or the economy tanks.

"There's something about this space that really is different from the traditional square room that we've all grown up in," says Mr. Ladisa.

"It's a nice way to get back to the land."

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About the Author

Dave LeBlanc was born in Toronto and wouldn't have it any other way. At age 8, he remembers jumping for joy when both the CN Tower opened and Toronto finally snatched Montreal's crown to become the biggest city in Canada; he's been an architecture lover and Toronto advocate ever since.He attended Ryerson for Radio-Television Arts and York University for English. More


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