William H. Gates III is a symbol--of wealth, technology, shrewd intelligence, and the possibility that a Harvard dropout can triumph. In his new house, on the shore of Lake Washington near Seattle, you can find reflections of all those things.
Gates can afford to build the biggest house on any block, and he certainly has. If the final tally for Gates's house hits $100 million, as some believe it will, don't worry about his financial well-being. That's only a quarter of 1 percent of Gates's fortune.
Money has given Gates the opportunity to make a house few could build. Its construction is not with two-by-fours but with 500-year-old Douglas fir timbers rescued from an ancient lumber mill, painstakingly sanded and refinished to a satin glow. The roof is stainless steel. The house is full of electronics ordinary computer users only dream about. It is his idea of the house of the future.
The technology is at times subtle, but always present. As you move about the house, your choice of art appears on high-definition television monitors. Music, lighting, and climate settings all tag along, too. A small pin you wear lets the system know who and where you are. You can go to a computer terminal to pick out a movie or television program. It will follow you to the nearest screen. Only the phone nearest you will ring, assuming you've told the computer you're taking calls at all.
Gates himself first fueled the fires of curiosity about his house. He wrote a chapter about it in his bestselling book, The Road Ahead. The book came with a CD-ROM featuring a "virtual tour" of the private house. Book and CD-ROM buyers were so interested in the building he bragged about that they want to know even more about it. That's why U.S. News studied house plans and pestered Gates's representatives to find out more than he revealed at the time the book went to press.
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The biggest question is: Does the technology work? We don't know. Gates won't discuss it anymore.
Perhaps the most intriguing glimpse of what the house means to Gates is a line from the conclusion of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, which Gates ordered inscribed around the base of the dome in his library. "He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close he could hardly fail to grasp it."
[Diagram is not available.] INSIDE THE GATES MANSION Family wing The Gates family's 11,500-square-foot inner sanctum is surprisingly modes, with four bedrooms and quarters for a nanny. A four-car garage is attached. The lower levels include a techno-playland family room and an exercise facility that is better appointed than many health clubs. 1. Pool building Size: 3,900 sq. ft. The 17-by-60-foot swimming pool has an underwater music system and a floor painted in a fossil motif. Swimmers can dive under a glass wall and emerge outdoors by a terrace. Locker room off the pool has four showers and two baths. 2. Exercise facilities Size: 2,500 sq. ft. Includes sauna, steam room, separate men's and women's lockers, and a trampoline room with a 20-foot ceiling.
What you won't see There is no space for live-in help, other than a nanny's room. Electrical outlets and phone jacks for T-1 lines are hidden. A network of service hallways, primarily for building maintenance, runs throughout the main buildings. Assume that security is extensive.
Guest wing The southern half of the main building, this wing contains the main entrance (with grand staircase), theater, library, formal dining room, reception hall, and conference facilities. It includes only two bedrooms. 3. Library Size: 2,100 sq. ft. The ornate, paneled library has a domed reading room with oculus (light well), fireplace, and two secret pivoting bookcases, one hiding a bar. It's the fitting home for Leonardo da Vinci's 16th-century notebook, the Codex Leicester, which Gates about for $30.8 million. 4. Grand staircase Size: 92 feet long, 63 feet high Towering Douglas fir beams support the stainless-steel roof and are surrounded by walls of glass, concrete, and stone. While much of the house is buried into the hillside, windows on the lakefront side provide views of Seattle to the west. There are 84 steps down from the entrance to the ground floor. The vertigo-inclined can take an elevator. 5. Theater Size: 1,500 sq. ft. The 20-seat art deco theater is outfitted with plush chairs, couches, and a popcorn machine. Screen is HDTV capable. 6. Formal dining room Size: 1,000 sq. ft. Up to 24 guests can dine by the fireplace while enjoying the sweeping view from the third level. Nearby commercial-grade kitchen is 39 feet by 23 feet. 7. Offices and meeting facilities Size: 1,900 sq. ft. Above the reception hall are rooms for conferences, offices, and a large computer room. 8. Reception hall Size: 2,300 sq. ft. Partly below ground, the reception hall can seat 150 people for a sit-down dinner or hold 200 for a cocktail party. A 6-foot-wide fireplace, faced in limestone, commands one wall. Another wall is dominated by a 22-foot-wide video display, made up of 24 rear-projection television monitors, each with a 40-inch screen. A second commercial-grade kitchen serves the reception hall. 9. Multipurpose room Size: 900 sq. ft. Formerly designated a gallery, this is now a multipurpose room, with a video projector included. Almost entirely underground, with a deck above, the room gets daylight from a large light well. Hallways connect it to the family and guest wings.