By Jan Henning
Warm memories are handsomely present in The Highlands Lake home of Sandy and Bill Gates. Their light filled lake house lies perfectly nestled among five acres, and cordially welcomes family and friends to the abundant inside and outside gathering areas – seemingly made for entertaining.
The couple has deep roots in Oxford; Bill grew up on campus where his father was director of athletic publicity for 38 years; Sandy transferred to Ole Miss as a junior from Texas where her family had moved several years earlier. When Bill retired in 2011 from his insurance corporate casualty career after 40 years in Memphis, the Gates returned to a place they already loved.
“Our son William was the one who found The Highlands,” Bill says. “He loves fishing and the outdoors and encouraged us to take a look, and we fell in love with the area.” The couple found the house plans for their one-story home on the internet and with some clever tweaking transformed the design to suit their preferences. “Bill got a wine cellar and I got half a laundry room,” Sandy explains with a smile. “We knew we wanted built-ins for books and treasured mementoes in the living room. Our decorator, the late Virginia Roberts suggested taking out a wall of cabinets in the kitchen,” Sandy says and the kitchen was given a big dose of wide-open space.
Thoughtful and intentional planning however has given the house what the couple both agree is their favorite part – the lake views. “I stood on the lot and laid out where the house would sit for the best views. I wanted to be able to see from the front door all the way through the house to the lake.” Bill says. “I drove a stake where the back doors are.” Marty Daniels built their home expertly situated to ensure the outdoor scenery has a continual aesthetic of light, water and nature.
The couple’s daughter, Christy Miller, of Memphis helped the couple decorate their home using most of their former furniture and antiques while melding in newer pieces that offer subtle contrast where needed. “We used all the furniture we had and made it work,” Sandy says. The foyer welcomes beautifully with a tapestry Christy found depicting a fishing scene with a palette of soft gold and green suspended above a 130-year-old library table from the home of Bill’s mother. The dining room includes an eye-catching chandelier that sparkles in the oversize gold leaf mirror above the expansive sideboard. Polished dark hardwood floors flow throughout the formal areas and are softened with area rugs in a palette of subdued blue, cream and soft orange creating a serene tone.
Ease and elegance converge in the living room where cushy seating upholstered in calm neutrals fit comfortably around an iron and glass topped coffee table. Soft pillows in a bold salmon shade add strokes of color, and a wall of windows and French doors frame picturesque views of the outdoors. The coffee table features one of Christy’s exquisitely carved sculptures. “She shapes the piece from a big piece of marble.” Sandy explains. “She looks at a big piece of stone and know what it’s going to be.” Strikingly displayed on the custom built-in bookcase is Bill’s “Alumni Service Award,” an artfully crafted crystal bowl atop a dark brown base. Providing another conversation area and functionality, a perfectly proportioned chestnut table with four creamy upholstered club chairs translates into a “great place for dinner and looking outside,” Sandy says.
In the kitchen, Christy chose a well-appointed veined marble countertop composed with a fluid curve that mimics a flowing river. Another marble sculpture Christy created graces the kitchen with its luxurious design. A backsplash in ceramic glazed tiles in a mocha hue and walnut cabinets add a bold contrast to the light-colored walls throughout the home.
Bill’s study is the heart of the couple’s love for all things associated with Ole Miss. Anchored by his sizable desk, the bookcases abound with an arsenal of memorabilia and awards that distinguish a life dedicated to the University and service. Walls are highlighted with framed photographs of championships and special moments in all sports including the baseball team’s recent national championship. Helmets and footballs signed by coaches and notable players intertwine with numerous plaques to commemorate milestones such as “Rebel of the Year” and leadership roles of various organizations. An especially treasured photograph features Sandy and Bill’s mothers standing together with Tom Brokaw in the Grove on a beautiful football Saturday.
A hallway leads to the home’s wine cellar that Bill describes as “more wine than we’ll ever drink.” An intriguing light fixture boasts a dozen wine bottles in the perfectly temperature-controlled room. “I’ve been collecting wine for 25- 30 years,” Bill says of his cellar that includes vintage wines from around the world.
The homeowner’s screened-in back porch and multiple decks seamlessly transform the outdoors into a soothing retreat to enjoy the beauty of nature without ever having to leaving home. The porch provides an intimate seating area, and tucked into one corner of the deck a wrought iron table and four chairs clad in a subdued kaki color invites morning coffee; in the opposite corner custom built-in seating with soft cushions is ideal for relaxing; twin swivel chairs have front row seats of the water and enjoying evening beverages. The couple loves to entertain, and the decks became particularly relevant during the pandemic when neighbors and friends could safely social distance outdoors. Large stone pavers and gravel paths lead to the pontoon and fishing boat docks, and the north facing backyard ensures everything is drenched in soft, serene sunlight.
Lake living has something special to offer the Gates family year-round. They enjoy sunset boat cruises in the summer, and their five grandchildren love to fish and swim in the lake. “The fall is beautiful and the lightning storms are fascinating to watch,” Sandy says. “It’s a little slice of heaven.” Winter, however, has its own special pleasures. Bare tree limbs stand silhouetted against the sky, shadows bouncing off the shimmering blue water. A cozy fire beckons inside. A collected home celebrates the best of life and a reminder that life is a fun journey.