Home is where the 'Yurt' is Company offers portable, alternative structures

Posted: Thursday, March 24, 2005

Jane Tollefsrud recalls seeing yurts popping up over the years in Homer where she lives.

"I kept saying 'I want one of these, I want one of these,'" Tollefsrud said.

When she started looking for a structure to house the Moose Point Learning Center, a tutoring center for children in the home school program, she decided on a yurt.

Tollefsrud falls under the category of most of Homer-based Nomad Shelter Yurts customers: professional women, said Jessica Tenhoff, co-owner of the company with her husband Lee Tenhoff. In fact, she said about 80 percent of their customers fall under this category.

"It wasn't something that we would have predicted at all," said Jessica Tenhoff about the company's female client base. "It was a surprise."

A yurt is a circular, portable tent-like structure made of material stretched around a lattice frame. The structure has Mongolian origins. But in recent years, it has gained popularity and is manufactured commercially in a variety of places.

The Tenhoffs make yurts in a variety of sizes from 16 to 30 feet. The price range is between $7,000 and $18,000. Tenhoff said she has seen the structure used for a variety of purposes such as a business, a temporary or permanent shelter or a guest home. Some people put them on blocks and rough it while others build a foundation with plumbing, she said.

The Tenhoffs started making yurts designed to withstand Alaska conditions when they were living in Nome. However, she said it was difficult to market their product in Nome.

They then moved to Homer to build a client base, she said. Operating on a shoestring budget, Nomad Shelter did not start a formal marketing campaign, she said. Their original intent was to target outfitters or lodges in remote locations. But word of the shelters spread and before long, the Tenhoffs found they made most of their sales to women.


Tenhoff said she only has theories.

"A lot of Alaska women are self-sufficient," she said, adding she suspects many women want to take care of their own housing.

There have been many couples that have bought their product where it is clear the woman is behind the deal, she said.

"Yurts are really pretty inside," she said citing the white spruce frame, skylight and bright atmosphere as a plus for a woman.

Tollefsrud said she never considered her love of yurts to be a feminine thing but acknowledged it was her idea to get it.

"I have always been attracted to the circular space," she said.

Her husband and 13-year-old daughter, who just had a pajama party in it, love it, as well, she said.

Tenhoff said many men may enjoy these qualities, too. However, men have some barriers that may make them less likely to consider a yurt, she said. When men want to live in a rustic setting, they often want to build a cabin, she said.

"Alaskan men want to build their own castle," she said.

Billy Day, co-owner of Twin Creeks Trailhead Lodge in Homer, has a yurt for a gathering space. When Day and his wife started discussing plans for the space, he said he imagined a stick frame structure. It was his wife, Sandy Cronland, who suggested the yurt, he said, adding he thought it was a great idea.

"It was going to save me (from) having to build another outbuilding," he said.

Day and Cronland were familiar with the yurt structure, Day said. After discussing it, they decided that it was more practical — and affordable — than building a structure, he said.

"The space is so encompassing and welcoming," Cronland said.

The Tenhoffs are making a living off their business, which mostly comes from word of mouth advertising, she said. It is the female customers who keep the business alive.

In the future, as business picks up, she hopes to wage a marketing campaign that focuses on single professional women.

For more information on Nomad Shelter Yurts call (907) 235-0132.

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