Meet Your Merchant: Caleb Erskine of the Living Intent Yurt Co. teams up with master craftsmen
At the age of 18 and living on shoe string on Rutherford Island in Maine, Caleb Erskine was in search of a solution to his own personal affordable housing crisis.
The more he learned about yurts, the more they seemed to suit him and his passion for a sustainable lifestyle close to nature. He loved the portable aspect of the aesthetically pleasing circular tent, originally designed by nomadic cultures in Mongolia, Siberia and Turkey. Today, instead of animal skins, the collapsible wall and roof of the round wooden structures are made from durable, long-lasting man-made materials. If insulated, yurts are livable year-round.
Erskine — never one to shy away from a challenge — decided to build one.
He collected books on the subject and bought tools at a nearby pawn shop, then set to work in a friend’s garage. Soon he was building yurts for friends and neighbors, then friends of friends. Then, while at a music festival in Portland, Maine, Erskine made a bold move and approached a festival producer with an idea.
“I told him I could provide VIP yurts at upcoming festivals,” he said. “He was intrigued and ended up asking if they could rent four. But there was only one problem. I hadn’t built them yet.”
Suddenly, Erskine was thrown into the business of building yurt kits, and he couldn’t have been happier, but for one exception: he wanted to move West. In the fall of 2017, he packed up his yurts and tools in the back of a cargo van and moved to Nevada County to pursue his dream of creating a yurt company based on providing a superior product that everyday people could afford.
That same year he launched his own business, Living Intent Yurt Co., and began providing handcrafted yurts to customers up and down the west coast and beyond. Initially working in a shared space used by an artists’ collective, Erskine met two key people — master woodworker Carl Savitsky, owner of Shining Water Woodworks, and Kurt Sandiforth, owner of Beowulf Industrial Sewing. Their experience, expertise and equipment have since enhanced the unique designs and aesthetic quality of Caleb’s original models.
While still running their own businesses, Erskine and Sandiforth now contract with Living Intent, and the three share a large workshop on Grass Valley Road, off Loma Rica Drive in Grass Valley. With each contributing their unique skills, the trio has begun to make improvements and refinements to some of Caleb’s original models.
“We’ve been transitioning the materials for various parts of our yurts over the past several months from Douglas fir to bamboo,” said Erskine. “We’re proud to say that moving forward, all of our lattice and center rings will be built out of bamboo. As far as we know, we’re the only North America-based yurt company building with bamboo. We’re beyond excited to start using such a beautiful, strong and multi-purpose material, as well as increasing our commitment to sustainability and responsible materials sourcing.”
One of the fastest-growing building materials found in nature, bamboo has proven to be a truly versatile material for yurt designs, as it can be pressed into sheets, taking the place of conventional timber materials.
As a woodworker Erskine, said he has fallen in love with bamboo. He creates the more technical features of each yurt, such as the center rings and custom wooden door frames designed to match the curvature of each yurt. He first became acquainted with Sandiforth’s industrial sewing expertise when the two were paid to collaborate on the building of a camp for overseas clients at Burning Man. It was instantly clear he’d be an asset at Living Intent.
Gone are the days when yurt walls and roofs were made of cotton canvas, yak hides or other organic materials. Today, Living Intent uses 18-ounce heat-welded roof vinyl, which is fused to be completely waterproof, as well as mildew and UV resistant. An acrylic dome at the top lets the light in. The walls are 12-ounce synthetic canvas offering the same benefits, with “double bubble” foil insulation sewn in.
Yurts are commonly used as tiny home dwellings, artist studios, spare bedrooms and rentals. Due to the recent changes in state law, Erskine said many former cannabis growers are now using their scenic acreage to offer a “glamping” experience.
Today, the trio makes yurts ranging in diameter from 12 to 20 feet, and they ship them in crates anywhere mail is delivered. In addition to building them for individual customers and organizations, they are slowly creating a fleet of camping yurts to rent. A 12-foot diameter yurt can be set up in roughly 20 minutes.
Business is currently moving along at a brisk pace, and Erskine said he is excited the potential and synergetic combination of the three accomplished craftspeople.
“The yurts are now looking like what I originally imagined,” he said. “We’re definitely on par with the top yurt companies out there, but with unique style and affordability. The way I see it, anything is possible thanks to this cool collaboration.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.
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