Many people dream about what kind of house they’d live in if they struck it rich. Even when dreaming, though, most don’t go so far as to think about the house they’d have if they were one of the richest people in the world.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates has been either the single richest person or one of the very few richest people in the world for decades. Since stepping down as chief executive officer of his software company in 2000, and leaving its day-to-day operations in 2008, Gates has devoted much of his time and fortune to charitable causes. As co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates has given away billions of dollars to fight poverty and disease, and to support education. His foundation currently stands as the largest charity in the world.
Gates has pledged to eventually give away half of his $77 billion fortune, but that still leaves plenty of money to live in luxury. One of the biggest luxuries enjoyed by Bill Gates is his high-tech mansion in the Pacific Northwest.
The Gates mansion is located on the eastern shore of Lake Washington, in the posh suburb of Medina, Washington. The house is just a 15-minute drive to Seattle, directly across the lake to the west. It’s another 15 minutes by car to the Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, located to the northeast.
Medina has a population of 2,969 and has the third-highest per-capita income in the state of Washington. In 2009, the city installed a comprehensive public surveillance system, placing video cameras with automatic license plate readers along all the roads entering the city, in an effort to prevent property crime at the expense of privacy.
The Gates mansion itself sits on a hillside facing the lake, and much of the house is sheltered underground by the earth of the hill. This wall of earth provides privacy, security, and excellent insulation.
Bill Gates originally purchased the land the mansion sits on for $2 million. Designed with a collaborative effort by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson Architects and Cutler-Anderson Architects, the Gates mansion was completed in 1997 after seven years of construction.
Gates invested another $2 million in a recycled lumber company to supply salvaged wood for the mansion’s many walls, ceilings, and floors.
More than 100 electricians were called upon to wire the house’s extensive technological system, which is powered by dozens of computers and 52 miles of fiber-optic cables. The construction costs of $63.2 million seem to have been worth it, as the house has an assessed value of $147.5 million and a yearly property tax bill of more than $1 million.
The mansion is designed in the “Pacific Lodge” style, which is meant to evoke log cabins made of cedar and other lumber. High ceilings, exposed wood, and large glass windows are hallmarks of the Pacific Lodge architecture, and the Gates mansion is no exception. Like the Gates mansion, Pacific Lodge mansions are often surrounded by trees and overlook water.
The Gates mansion is a marvel of automated technology. The house includes a networked system that adjusts the temperature, music, and lighting based on microchips guests wear that tell the house’s computers where they are in the mansion. As guests move throughout the home, each room they enter is adjusted to their preference.
A central media server allows any room’s occupants to select from a vast library of movies, music, and art to be displayed on high-definition monitors located in almost every room of the house. Speakers hidden in the walls allow music to automatically follow guests as they walk anywhere in the house. Guests can begin watching a movie in their bedroom, and resume the film seamlessly after they walk to the mansion’s private movie theater.
The mansion also has several traditional luxuries. The Gates family and guests enjoy a 60-foot heated swimming pool with an underwater music system. There is a 2,500 sq. ft. gym, a 1,000 sq. ft. dining room, and a large private library with a dome roof and an oculus. Driveways and walkways on the estate are heated, as are all floors in the mansion itself.
One more major luxury on the estate is a beach on Lake Washington that uses sand imported each year from the tropical paradise of St. Lucia of the Caribbean’s Windward Islands.
The Gates mansion has 24 bathrooms, enough for each member of the Gates family to have four bathrooms each, with four more bathrooms left over for guests. When Bill Gates drove home from his job at Microsoft, a GPS system in his car could alert his networked bathtub to begin filling itself with hot water as Gates approached his home. Inside the master bedroom, Melinda Gates has a walk-in closet with a 40-foot long moving conveyer rack for clothing storage.
The mansion features an extensive security system. Most of the house is able to be viewed by cameras hidden in the walls, the ceilings, and in trees and stones outside. Sensors in the floors can track individuals in the house to an accuracy of six inches. The house’s security system is also able to be monitored remotely by the Microsoft security team at the Redmond campus.
Another cloak-and-dagger amenity in the house is a pivoting bookcase that reveals a secret entrance to a bar, located deep inside the mansion’s library.
The mansion features several parking garages, with a combined capacity for 23 cars. One of the garages transforms into an indoor basketball court at the push of a button.
Bill Gates grew fond of a 40-year-old maple tree that grows near the property’s driveway. So fond, in fact, that he installed sensors and a computer to monitor the tree’s health 24 hours a day, and water the tree as needed.
Finally, one of the most impressive features of the mansion is its reception hall, which is built mostly below ground, under the estate’s hillside. The hall can accommodate 200 guests for cocktail parties, and includes an entire wall made of high-definition video screens. A full restaurant-grade kitchen sits just off the hall to prepare food and drink during parties. The banquet hall itself is more than 2,300 square feet.