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Minnesota couple builds eco-friendly domes in Lutsen

Klarhet, a North Shore homestead, features four Airbnb rentals, chickens, fruit and nut trees, and a developing regenerative food forest.

Woman stands in a dome.
Nicole Leand talks to a visitor July 12 in one of four dome structures she and her husband, Kirk, rent on their Lutsen property.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
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LUTSEN — Nicole Leand’s Nigerian dwarf goat munched on grass as his four-legged fellows watched from behind the fence.

This was the second time he got out. (Before the News Tribune left, there’d be a third.)

They can climb, Leand explained, before cornering Elwood, bear-hugging and walking him back behind the gate, as he bleated disapprovingly.

The goats are the latest addition to Klarhet , a North Shore homestead featuring four geodesic domes for travelers, chickens, fruit and nut trees, and a developing regenerative food forest.

The domes

More than a glorified tent, the Klarhet (rhymes with "star bet") domes feel luxurious and inspiring with a king-sized bed facing the clear, lake-facing front; organic, sustainably sourced bedding; and a chic and crisp kitchenette with a simple sink, mini-fridge and microwave.

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Aerial view of wooded property.
Two of the four domes on Kirk and Nicole Leand’s property. The property is within sight of downhill ski runs in Lutsen.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

The large loft rests on the central structure, which houses the bathroom with its rainfall showerhead, a handmade vanity and hallowed rock for a sink.

The Airbnb listing notes there isn’t air conditioning, and the tent-like structure may be loud during windy nights. But, based on the slew of high Airbnb ratings for the four domes, this doesn’t seem to deter guests. After Sarah Speer’s first stay at Klarhet, the Baxter, Minnesota, woman said she’d never seen anything like it before.

“Amazing. I’m laying in bed, looking out at the stars, taking pics of the sunrise,” she said. Sleeping in the dome is similar to being outside with more temperature control.

“This is really pretty, it’s also really practical,” Speer added.

Two women walk by a dome.
Guests Sarah Speer, left, and Sally Aadland walk past one of the domes at Klarhet on July 12.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
Kirk and Nicole Leand.
Kirk and Nicole Leand at the birchwood arch on their property July 12.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Heat and air move more efficiently in a dome compared to a traditionally square build, said Leand.

The sun streaming in the lake-facing bay windows heats the concrete floors, which provide passive solar heat, reducing the amount of energy used. There’s also a pellet stove for winter nights, and the domes have screens on the sides for ventilation during steamy summers.

The structures are made up of two vinyl liners stretched over a climate-specific reinforced steel frame. The Leands constructed and designed everything inside: the concrete floor, the kitchenette, bathroom and loft bedroom.

Emma Andringa is living and interning on the land. She was introduced to Klarhet through family friends in March.

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While staying in the dome, Andringa found herself stargazing nightly, reading and walking in the woods — a stark change from her time back home. “Hating Twin Cities life,” Andringa was ready for a change.

Now, she feels gratified to see the homestead evolve and to take in what she’s learning, which is, so far, how to chase and milk a goat, and how to build a chicken coop.

Woman pushing a wagon.
Klarhet employee Emma Andringa leaves one of the domes after cleaning it July 12.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

She’s also thrilled by the way the Leands communicate and aim to lift up her creativity. “You're surrounded by this environment you don’t get to see when you're in a city. It really shifts your perspective,” she said.

Inside a dome.
The interior of one of Klarhet’s domes shows the bed, loft and dining area.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
Dome kitchen area.
The kitchen area in one of Klarhet’s domes.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

The Leands want to foster this very environment through these structures and on their land.

When they stepped into their first dome, they felt a “sensation of clear-headedness,” which led to the name of their operation: Klarhet, meaning “clarity” in Swedish and Norwegian.

The couple started in real estate as a side hustle, which led to flipping and selling duplexes in Minneapolis before getting into the Airbnb game.

In early 2020, they sold their properties in the Cities and invested everything they had into this 25-acre parcel. Soon, they were living on-site and off-grid as they developed it, which meant no running water or electricity. They charged their phone with a solar panel, and they’d drive around, while their then-baby napped, to charge a laptop.

The initial process was intense, they said, and through it, they learned patience and to “love each other really hard.”

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“The big thing is I can completely trust our dynamic now to the point where I know we can get through it. I kind of feel unstoppable,” she said.

Kirk Leand added there are no regrets. They made this leap, they’re learning and “noticing the beauty.”

The food forest

Woman looking at chickens.
Nicole Leand looks at some of Klarhet’s chickens while talking about farming in Lutsen July 12.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Next up, the Leands are developing a self-sustaining regenerative food forest on which Elwood and the other goats will clear the land; the chickens will provide eggs and meat; and both will produce compost to fertilize the soil.

They want to practice ecological and personal wellness through food, said Nicole Leand.

Farming this farm north is challenging with the rocky terrain, short growing season and the soil. So, they’ve built hugelkultur beds: a traditional garden mound built from downed trees, wood chips, soil and compost that will allow them to grow on an eventual water-retaining, drought-resistant, wider-surface area.

Man pulling a wagon.
Klarhet farmer Colin Treiber moves a roll of fence July 12.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
Mound of logs and wood chips.
A raised garden bed made by piling rotten logs, plant debris, compost and soil takes shape at Klarhet.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

The new farmers also enlisted the help of Colin Treiber, who is educated in biodynamic agriculture. He explained that a biodynamic farmer observes and approaches the work as it relates to the land, its creatures and the cosmos. “The central idea is the farmers and participants are working with forces, not just substances,” said Treiber.

“We have a lot of rock and a lot of incredible mineral substances, but it’s all stuck," he said. "We want to free up the minerals and essential compounds here.”

Two goats.
Two of Klarhet’s goats.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

During a walking tour, the team explained how they already planted lingonberries, raspberries, walnuts, chestnuts, blueberries, pears, apples, plums and asparagus. They’ve purchased 10 baby goats, and Leand shared their designs for a dairy operation.

Elwood butted a News Tribune reporter’s hand and chewed on their sweatshirt string. “That’s why my shoelace is gone. They’re very good at it,” she said.

For more about Klarhet, go to liveklarhet.com.

MORE BY MELINDA LAVINE
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“I don’t think anything comes out of sitting in a cell,” said Kathy Lionberger, division director at the Northeast Regional Corrections Center.

Melinda Lavine is an award-winning, multidisciplinary journalist with 16 years professional experience. She joined the Duluth News Tribune in 2014, and today, she writes about the heartbeat of our community: the people.

Melinda grew up in central North Dakota, a first-generation American and the daughter of a military dad.

She earned bachelors degrees in English and Communications from the University of North Dakota in 2006, and started her career at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald that summer. She helped launch the Herald's features section, as the editor, before moving north to do the same at the DNT.

Contact her: 218-723-5346, mlavine@duluthnews.com.
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