Review & History

Reviews and About the Frame Panel Yurt

“There can be no power in a square”, Black Elk said, “You will notice that everything an Indian does so in a circle, and that is because the power of the world always works in circles, and everything tries to be round.” Nature creates in circles and moves in circles, atoms and galaxies are circular, and most organic things in between. The earth is round.  The wind whirls. the womb is no shoe box.  "Where are the corners of the egg and the sky?”  - Tom Robbins

The Comen Family Yurt Story

In 1985, Richard and Priscilla Comen decided to take an early retirement and move to land they had purchased in lovely Mendocino County, California. At a home show in San Francisco, they came across David Raitt and his company California Yurts. “We liked the concept of a round structure,” says Richard. “It would give us 360-degree views of our redwood-studded surroundings from each room, and the yurt design solved some of the challenges of our sloping piece of land. By raising the yurt off the ground on multiple engineered pilings, and constructing it on multiple levels, we could avoid re-contouring the land and removing extra redwood trees. The piling system would also anchor the yurt against the heavy rains that occur during the Mendocino winter season.” “We also realized that we could have a custom home without incurring high architectural fees because California Yurts had a group of existing plans that we could combine to accommodate our site needs, rather than starting from a blank sheet of paper.” “Our flexible yurt is cozy and comfortable to us as well can accommodate up to 60 guests in our 31’ living room without feeling crowded.

Daytime Living Area

The daytime living are in the 31’ yurt which includes the living room, and kitchen. No space is wasted on partitions between rooms as in a conventional house all centrally lit by the tinted skylight above.” "Another factor influencing our choice,” Richard continues, “was the fact that the yurt was constructed off-site and arrived in sections by truck. It would be assembled on-site in a matter of days. This meant that the house could be livable within a very short time compared to conventional construction.  Our yurt contractor also was amenable to the owners doing whatever our expenses would allow, and I was capable of doing the electrical, plumbing, and interior finish work myself.” "We built the house in 1986. We were very involved in the planning stage, and the whole process happened rapidly and easily. Now, twenty years later, we would do the same thing again. We have loved our home all these years.” “For those contemplating yurt construction.” says Richard “our main piece of advice would be to utilize the circle concept to its fullest and enjoy the open space;  don’t place partitions. If you want partitions, you might as well build a conventional square-room house.

Comen's Family Home
The Comens’ children are grown and living their own lives. “it is now just the two of us,”  says Richard, “and we are very pleased with our yurt home. It is easy to maintain, easy to clean, and is all on one level for our main living, which becomes important in one’s older years.” The Comens’ son Craig purchased land close to his parents in Ft. Bragg, California. Planning to design a dream home with a magnificent ocean view, he started working with an architect. Gradually he realized how much the project would cost and that his vision might not be a good fit for his site. Craig had been visiting his parents in their yurt home for many years and have always the spacious feel of the yurts, their intimate connection to their surroundings, and their flexibility. Craig met with David Raitt, his parents designer, manufacturer, and installer contractor and came away with models that he could cut and paste away into his own custom design. He decided on the Nautilus, a design based on the shape of a spiral, with two smaller rooms extending off of a twenty-six-foot great room.  This fit Craig’s budget, but he wanted more space so David added a loft to the design, covering a little less than half of the great room and giving him a total of 1,100 Sq.Ft

Vital Designs Logo

Based on a Nautilus

Craig Comen’s father, Richard, designed and built the spiral staircase. The lighting fixtures were made by a friend. “Having California Yurts contractors do everything wouldn't have been as enjoyable,” says Craig. ”Building it this way has made it a combination of many talents, with input from both my family and friends and surfing buddies. After two visits to California Yurts, Craig felt the design was ready to proceed. “I wanted to live in my house, not be a slave to it,” says Craig, “so I kept it as simple as possible.  I helped David’s crew build the foundation and subfloor. Then a truck pulled in with the walls and we put them up in one day. David brought in a crane and we set all the roof panels on another day. The panels come with the interior with the sheathing and insulation blown into the pine-covered re-sawn ceiling completed off-site at their factory. “Altogether it was a streamlined process, a real pleasure.”

Interior of Comen Home

I had the advantage of being able to rely on my dad’s knowledge and his attention to detail. We worked together on the electrical. plumbing and septic, and he taught me a lot. Members of my surfing brotherhood also pitched in with lots of expertise in plumbing and sheetrock and other trades. We had a flexible work schedule. The understanding was “ if the surf was good, we’ll go surfing” "My home is a combination of many talents, with lots of input from family and friends.

Group of People

Craig appreciated the overall process. "Calling it prefab isn’t entirely accurate,” he says. “It’s really a custom home. The walls and roofs are prefabricated.  I enjoyed being able to finish it myself, despite some of the frustrations I experienced dealing with the odd angles of a circular structure.” David added extra height to the walls to accommodate the loft. Interior decorating has been a challenge since most furniture is designed to fit into a square space. My space is more a challenge than my parents' place because it’s smaller.” “Creativity and allowing it to evolve has been key

David with Surfboard

Note”   Many current frame panel customers were fabric yurt dwellers who wanted something more permanent. They were ready to settle down and take advantage of the comforts and amenities that an inheritance, great crop, savings or even a mortgage would allow, but they did not want to return to living in boxes. David Raitt of California Yurts has devised a means of providing custom wooden yurts for clients at a reasonable price using the advantages of off-site prefabrication and that of the labors of the active owner builders seeking to be a part of this wonderful process. The possibilities are endless and the design potential unlimited. Clients can also decide if they want their yurt completed by a trained yurt contractor installer or do some of the work themselves as the Comens did on their projects.

46-year History in brief with David’s Yurt building and Vital Designs DBA California Yurts Inc.

1969 Met Bil Coperthwaite at the Cox Farm in Haverhill, Mass. and attended his yurt workshop which was the start of my yurt building career.

1970 Built the New Hampshire, Yurt Village with Bill Coperthwaite as the first campus of three for Dick Hiler’s Study Travel Community School.

1971 Built over 60 yurt projects from 1970 to 1973 in New England working under Bill Coperthwaite Yurt Designs Co. as yurt builders with Marc Hansen

1972 Completed Yurt Village campus in Bowdoinham, Maine for the Study Travel Community School

1973 Completed Glen Echo Park Green Crafts Village for the National Park in Washington DC.

1974 Set up a sawmill in Potter Valley CA. Met with Jerry Brown and helped set up United Stand and created Class K building code for allowing creative recycled homes in CA.

1975 Moved off Greenfield ranch and sold my sawmill operation

1976 Built first model home and shop built in Talmage, started Vital Designs LTD.

1978 Licensed Oregon Yurtworks in Eugene, Oregon Morgan Reiter

1981 Licensed Ca. Yurt Works with a shop at the industrial park

1982 Licensed Gaulburn Yurt Works in Australia to manufacture and install yurts

1983 Built 1500 sq.ft. model home office on 101 in Ukiah Ukiah

1984 Licensed and incorporated CA. Yurts inc, as Private Calif. Sub S Corp.

1986 Bought land in Hopland, built 80' Shop & office CA. Yurts Inc.

1987 Built Nautilus model, started New Zealand Yurt Co. licensed subdivision

1988 -90 Subdivided and developed 3 parcels and sold Hopland Yurt Village

v1990 Liquidated Hopland Facility moved our manufacturing to Talmage on River

1991 Re-organization California Yurts under Chapter 11 to associate’s from employee

1992 Licensed Island Yurtworks on Orcas Isl. in Washington

1993 Plan approved for re-organization release of stay to proceed plan completed

1994 Licensed sales with Terra Systems Ha.

1994 Completed $310,000 in yurt contracts with associate contractors and clients Wall Street Journal “Gimme Shelter” featured our California Yurts

1995 Completed $360,000 in yurt contracts

1996 Projected to complete $ 380,000 in yurt contracts

1997 Celebrated our 20 years in Australia in Australia

1997 Under contract for $300,000 in contracts for 1st Qtr.

1997 Licensed California Yurts Japan and built first duplex model there

1998 Built huge yurt complex in Big Sur Designed Ptayeragon for the Japan Peace Project see our website Prayeragon

1999 Completed over $600,000 in yurt projects

2000 Built the 2nd phase in Mariposa outside Yosemite for the Birkners

2001 Built 5 yurts remote for Zen Monastery, 3rd yurt at Plumfield Academy School

2002-2004 Steady workload averaged 650,000 in gross sales over this time, earth plaster and cement plaster exteriors

2005 Started 10 sided series, split loft towers, built the first phase of the Baja project

2005 Signed author agreement with Becky Kemery Yurts “Living in the Round"

2006 Gross sales exceeded $1,000,000 4 crews in 4 counties built Demo Naut. 1

2006 Featured in Becky’s Go it Alone book Yurts Living in the Round

2007 Gross sales up over 1.2 million with over 10,000 square ft. of yurts under contract

2007 Annie Raitt Dies co-founder California Yurts and Vital Designs

2008 First six months sales carrying into the end of ‘09 projected our biggest year ever.

2009 Built John Jevons Bio-intensive research center in Willits and Sonoma Ashram

2010 Completed new home cluster design for Jim Shaw, launched Nomad 2 in Baja

2011 Upgraded designs to meet Urban Wildfire Clarions codes, sprinklers, Cement sidings, Steel Anchor Panel deck skirts, Built 4-way Nautilus for Batz Family

2012 Built the Sonoma Ashram meditation yurt and 13’ model, the greenhouse at Wellmar

2012 Becky Kemery Dies founder of

2012 Marc Hansen Dies Yurt Builder co-founder Vital designs

2013 Prefab Pinelli tower in Willits ship our Richter yurt to Neada City

2013 Bill Coperthwaite Dies founder of the yurt foundation

2014 Install Pinelli yurt and prefab Crozier yurt

2015 Install crozier, build new nomad 2 model at Wellmar, Marshall prefab

As of 2014, Vital Designs and associated  have completed  90  million in sales of this  frame panel building system on five  continents over this 46 year history. Of that  over $30,000,000 in contracts maintaining an A+BBB rating  in California over our 30 year California Yurts inc. history.  We have completed over $20,000,000 in Australia over the past 30 years. and never have been in a lawsuit. settled 3 claims over the 40 years and have used over 1,000,000’  of lumber, installed over 25,000’ of sustainable bamboo flooring in our homes. An estimated 40,000,000 in completed sales from Oregon yurtworks since 1981. Oregon Yurtworks dba Mindful Living Homes closed it;s door in 2007.Baja Yurtwrks was licensed in 2013 where new product development is underway wit 3D panel foam core with 1/2” hand plater on each side with 6”x6” vertical cages with rebar caisons every seam amd perimeters. Stay tuned for a  new page on this building system.

Rest assured as you grow with us, we will be there to re-roof or roof over, replace your skylights, or to complete the next growth phase of your home.   We also move yurts to other properties. Moving an existing yurt can cost 1/2 as much as building  a new yurt and in the process, we can upgade the windows and insulation roofing, foundation, siding and decks to meet the current code for another 25%.  Take your home with you.

Annie Raitt
Most of our Associate contractors are trained in the art of Yurt building. Most are in their late 30’s early 40’s. I am in my early 60’s and Brian in his late 40’s. Happy Yurting……..david

Annie Raitt    Co-Founder Vital Designs and California Yurts left us a few years back and has left a wonderful legacy of amazing designs.