Living in a Tent: Our Delightful Fabric Home

For this couple, living in a tent was such an unbeatable opportunity even a steady job at the New York Times couldn't compete.

| September/October 1984

  • living in a tent - three diagrams
    Diagrams show the scale and floor plans of the Optimum 200, Optimum 350, and Optimum 600.
  • living in a tent - interior, work area by window
    The tents are well lit, have windows, and can be divided into separate areas by screens.
    Parton Keese
  • living in a tent - the three tent complex
    The Keeses aren't actually living in A tent but a complex of THREE tents — complete with plumbing, heat, and septic system!
    Photo by Parton Keese

  • living in a tent - three diagrams
  • living in a tent - interior, work area by window
  • living in a tent - the three tent complex

They laughed when I told them I would be quitting my job at the New York Times, moving west, and living in a tent in California. And I must admit that I, too, snickered a bit when my wife, Karen, first suggested the idea after falling in love with a picture of an exotic fabric home she'd seen in a magazine. But here we are, some two years later, delightfully ensconced in a cotton-canvas tent that looks as if it came out of the Arabian Nights, and feeling not the least bit sorry that we've left a more conventional lifestyle far behind!

Parton's Folly

The fact that my western-born spouse hated city life and owned a beautiful piece of property not far from the Pacific Coast had something to do with our decision, of course. As for me, though, I was New York born and bred, and accustomed to the finer things that a $50,000-a-year job can bring. What ultimately changed my stubborn mind was seeing the surprisingly functional and beautiful tent itself. What's more, now that some of my old reporter pals have visited us at "Parton's Folly," they're probably not laughing much back in New York, either!

Nowadays, in fact, I often wonder why more people in mild climates don't take advantage of what today's imaginative fabric homes have to offer. Not only are they versatile, portable, economical, and exciting in the freedom they provide, but they also retain the original ambience that campers have found irresistible for centuries: a combination of romance and practicality. How ironic that a city boy has become a virtual pioneer in the field of canvas living!

It must have been quite a shock for our friends back East to see us take off on a 3,000-mile move, carrying our home in the back of our car. (Packed dry and properly folded, our main tent, which covers about 850 square feet, can be stored in a pair of washer/dryer cartons that easily fit into the back of a station wagon.) And a similar surprise awaited our new friends on the Coast, who — upon the arrival of a huge moving van on our conspicuously undeveloped property — asked in bewilderment, "Where are you going to put all that stuff ?"

In two hours, though, that question was answered. Four of us (two people could have done the job) erected the double-walled structure by following a single page of step-by-step instructions.

Chosen from the Optimum series manufactured by Moss Tent Works, Inc., our new home consisted of an Optimum 600, an Optimum 200, and a custom-made, ten-foot-square tent we use for a bathroom, all purchased for a price that came to under $10,000.

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