Yurt work

We’re helping a Minnesota couple transform a tent into a dream home


Jeff Koons didn’t always want a yurt.

Like many Minnesotans, he dreamed for years about owning a cabin on a lake. But after he and his wife, Tara, secured a 7-acre piece of property about 1.5 hours north of the Twin Cities, Jeff realized something.

“I wanted something different,” he says. “Something that made people look and go, ‘What the hell are they thinking?’”

So, the couple explored several outside-the-box options, including straw bale homes, cob houses, pole barns and silo homes. Eventually, they landed on a yurt — a large, round tent used for centuries in Mongolia and other nations, and recently popularized in the U.S. for “glamping” and other adventures.


Renderings depict what life in the yurt will look like.

Jeff and Tara picked out a yurt kit from Seattle-based Rainier Outdoor. They considered simply throwing the tent on a slab and perhaps adding a basic deck alongside it. But soon, their plans grew more ambitious. They envisioned a screen porch; a mudroom; even a basement. That’s when they decided they could use some help.

A team effort

Jeff and Tara began researching architects online. When they learned about Shelter, they felt our compact size and collaborative process would be a great fit. Project architect Greg Elsner and designer Jen Wojtysiak dove in, soaking up information about yurts in general, and about what specifically Jeff and Tara wanted to achieve with theirs.

“A residential project like this is very personal,” Jen notes. “We always want to work closely with the client.”

Jeff and Tara Koons worked with project architect Greg Elsner and other Shelter team members to ensure the couple’s yurt was designed to fit their family’s everyday life.

The yurt work provided our team with ample opportunities to craft innovative solutions for small spaces — a longtime Shelter specialty — and to expand on ideas that Jeff and Tara brought to the table. For example, we designed an airy three-season screen porch to let in lots of natural light.

“Greg came up with a high-angle roof, which is really cool,” Jeff says. “I also like what they did with the bathroom. They made it so efficient in a very tight space.”

Floor plan and cross-section view of the yurt and its surrounding structures.

In all, the Koons’ yurt complex will include a bedroom, a kitchen, a living room, a bathroom, a mudroom, a screen porch and wrap-around decking, all situated above an octagonal basement. Amenities will include insulation, in-floor heating, a wood-burning stove and running water. A solar array will deliver electricity, and high-speed internet service will arrive by satellite. When complete, the dwelling will include about 1,900 square feet of usable space — nearly twice as much as Jeff, Tara and their kids have in their current city house. When the yurt is move-in ready, the family plans to make it their permanent residence.

Virtual visit

Construction on the project won’t start until next year, but Jeff and Tara recently got to “walk through” their yurt via virtual reality, a service we offer to many of our clients. At REM5 in St. Louis Park (another Shelter client), the couple got a sense of the yurt’s size and how it will feel to live and move around within it.

Tara and Jeff Koons got an inside look at their future home, courtesy of virtual reality.

“The VR experience was great,” Jeff says. “It gave a good impression of the layout and flow of the building. They even programmed in the surrounding terrain, so we were able to see what our views will be like.”

As their dream home comes closer to becoming a reality, Jeff and Tara are pleased that they didn’t attempt an entirely DIY approach to its design. They’re confident that they’ll love living in their yurt, and that their visitors — even the skeptics — will walk away impressed.

“Everybody at Shelter has been so supportive and excited,” Jeff says. “They came up with really elegant ideas to make the space work and flow. It’s turned into something pretty nifty and unique and special. It was a no-brainer to bring an architect on board.”

If you’d like help bringing your vision for an ideal home to life, contact us at 612-870-4081 or info@shelterarchitecture.com.

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