As experts in philanthropy, fund, technology and international health scramble to predict what the divorce of Melinda and Bill Gates could mean for their industries, others are wondering: Who will receive their lakefront estate in the Seattle suburbs, which is valued at upwards of $131 million? And will the public finally get a peek inside?
The few, worth an estimated $124 billion according to Forbes, announced their split in a joint statement posted to their social media profiles on Monday. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, of which they are co-chairs, stated that nothing will change in its organizational structure.
But their 66,000-square-foot home on the shore of Lake Washington is another matter. The sprawling complex — which, in the time of a 1995 New York Times story, included a spa, a 60-foot pool, a fitness center paneled with stone from a mountain peak in the Pacific Northwest, a trampoline room, and a stream for salmon, trout and other fish — got the nickname Xanadu 2.0 from Mr. Gates’s biographers.
(Xanadu is a reference to the big, lavish property that belongs to the tycoon at the core of the movie “Citizen Kane. ” The 2.0 refers to Mr. Gates’s technological innovations.)
The specifics of the waterfront compound have been retained incredibly confidential by the Gates family — so much so that a tour of the property went for $35,000 at a charity auction in 2009, according to TechCrunch. The Gateses own multiple other parcels of land surrounding the most important property, based on public records, so walking to catch a glimpse is out of the question.
But an intern for Microsoft who made it inside in 2007 was permitted to write about the visit on the company ’s blog . According to his account, the house is built from “orangey wood ” and the sand on the beach is imported from Hawaii. The timber is Douglas fir; the source of the sand, unconfirmed. (Going down Bills driveway is like arriving at Jurassic Park, the intern wrote. “The landscaping is simply insane. ”)
Other known details about the home are that it was divided into pavilions that were terraced to a 170-foot hill and that it was designed by the architects James Cutler and Peter Bohlin. Mr. Bohlin’s firm later designed the famous Apple cube in the company’s store on Fifth Avenue in New York.
And, Ms. Gates once said that the mansion caused her to have a “ mini sort of personal crisis. ”
Mr. Gates was working on his dream house before marrying Ms. Gates in 1994. But construction was halted when she came on the scene. The place was “a bachelor ’s dream and a bride’s nightmare,” based on a 2008 profile of Ms. Gates in Fortune magazine, with “enough software and high-tech screens to produce a newlywed feel as though she were living inside a video game. ”
(A decade later, Ms. Gates was similarly grim: “Just to be clear, the house was being constructed before I arrived on the scene,” she said in a 2019 New York Times interview. “ But I take responsibility for it. ”)
After six months of discussions about whether the whole project should be scrapped, Ms. Gates chose to influence additional construction by incorporating her preferences — and insisted on making the place a home for a family and not a lone tech wizard. To this end, she hired the interior designer Thierry Despont, who was the creative mind behind the recovery of famous interiors like the Palm Court at the Plaza Hotel in New York and the Ritz in Paris.
However, Mr. Gates made big promises about the house ’s technological powers in his 1995 book, “The Road Ahead. ” He explained his vision of a intelligent home where guests would receive badges that could communicate with sensors around the house. As they moved through the rooms, lights would dim or brighten, music would play, and the temperature would automatically adapt to their preference. It’s not clear whether these plans panned out.
Another component of Mr. Gates’s vision was to turn the walls to movie displays where he would be able to display digitized works of art. As the house was being built, Mr. Gates started to purchase the digital rights to world-famous pieces from museums like the National Gallery in London via a company called Interactive Home Systems.
These acquisitions were part of an entrepreneurial experiment: Mr. Gates imagined that in the long run, other people would have the ability to decorate their homes with digitized artworks like he had been trying to do. His vision didn’t come to fruition. (Interactive Home Systems became Corbis, a wealthy photography archive, which later sold its image and licensing division to a Chinese company. )
Perhaps Mr. Gates may now recommit himself to designing and building a smart house (though that may not be a challenging project for him now, now that connected devices are everywhere).
Because despite the changes she made to the couple’s residence, Ms. Gates recently expressed misgivings about continuing to reside there.
We wont have that home forever, she told The Times in 2019. “I’m really really looking forward to the day that Bill and I reside in a 1,500-square foot home. ”
Alain Delaquérière contributed research.