A diamond heiress is selling the estate she built on a hill in Tenino. The home’s design and amenities are eye-popping. So is the price: $11 million.
It’s the most expensive residence ever listed in Thurston, Pierce and Mason counties, said Gig Harbor-based listing agent Michael Morrison of Sotheby’s International Realty.
The estate is called Merkaba, which, potential buyers are told, means light, spirit and body.
The owner reportedly told the home’s initial South African architect that she wanted it to resemble a spaceship and the famed Frank Lloyd Wright designed Guggenheim Museum.
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Why did she have it built in Tenino? She hasn’t said publicly, but there are clues she wanted to live near Ramtha’s School of Enlightment near Yelm.
Like New York City’s Guggenheim, the Merkaba home is built with curves. Lots of them. There are few right angles in the 6,500-square-foot home.
The house has four bedrooms but that doesn’t include several other unusual rooms. One, a reflection room, is lined in copper leaf. It has a round periscope-like window that is permanently aligned with the North Star.
“You can go in there and be peaceful and block out the rest of the world,” Morrison said.
Another room is a padded silo with an image of a rose on the ceiling.
“That’s where the kids play and read,” Morrison said.
The house is as green as it gets with solar panels and geothermal heating.
“The house is nearly self-sustaining,” Morrison said. “The (most recent) power bill was $21.”
Olympia-based designers Ruben and Jessicarae Nunez of Boxhouse Design redesigned the home from the original rough sketches and oversaw construction for the owner.
“We spent several months in an army tent on site,” Ruben Nunez said. In total, the couple spent four years working on the home. They estimated that over 200 local construction workers, crafts people and artists worked on the house.
“They have definitely honed their craft,” Jessicarae Nunez said.
One wing of the home contains a rectangular saltwater pool. It becomes an outdoor pool when window panels raise via hydraulics and airplane actuators at the touch of a button.
“She (built) it at an 80-foot length so she wouldn’t have to turn around all the time,” Morrison said. “She wanted to swim laps.”
The interior walls are sealed in clay, giving them a uniform, light gray color.
“If the walls were to get marred or scratched or anything like that you would simply wet them, come back and hand trowel it ... and you’d be back to square one again,” Morrison said.
The kitchen is modest, except for the pantry door which is a translucent stone slab complete with fossilized shells. A canoe-shaped coffee table has a matching back-lit top.
Despite the size of the house it has an intimate feel inside.
The grounds are as startling as the interior. Visitors are greeted by two grassy hills swirling into the sky like seashells. The features are modeled after Charles Jencks’ Garden of Cosmic Speculation in Scotland.
“I wondered, how do you mow that?” Morrison said of his first visit to the estate. Answer: Electric mowers and ropes.
Pathways, wisteria-draped arbors, water features and stone-slab walkways surround the house.
Views of the 85-acre property present themselves from every window and balcony.
“You absolutely see no one,” Morrison said. “You’re completely private.”
There’s a barn with guest quarters above, terraced garden, rose garden, fruit orchard and bee hives.
There’s also a helicopter pad.
All of the original furniture was custom made for the house, often fitting into odd-shaped walls like a puzzle piece. The furnishings come with the house if desired.
Elliptical-shaped structures of the house were clad in reclaimed 80 year old olive barrels. A Swarovski crystal chandelier was designed and fabricated by Seattle’s Amiga Light.
Construction was completed in 2006, the owner told the Wall Street Journal.
South Africa bound
Morrison declined to identify the owner, but tax records and other media reports list her as Rebecca Oppenheimer.
Oppenheimer is the South African granddaughter of Harry Oppenheimer, former chairman of De Beers Consolidated Mines. De Beers once controlled 90 percent of the world’s diamond market.
She’s also the daughter of Scottish rugby captain, Gordon Waddell.
Oppenheimer and her husband James Capezio were divorced in 2013.
She’s no longer giving interviews to the press, Morrison said.
Why move from South Africa to Tenino in the first place? Oppenheimer hasn’t said in the stories written about the house.
One clue is the blind archery range on the Merkaba estate.
Blind archery, where a participant uses “inner sight” to guide their aim, is taught at the nearby Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment.
Ramtha is, according to school founder J. Z. Knight, the spirit of a man who lived more than 30,000 years in the past. Knight claims that she communicates with the spirit.
Knight’s school attracts a number of wealthy students who can pay the thousands of dollars she charges for Ramtha teachings. Actors Salma Hayek and Linda Evans are both students of Knight’s and have property in the area.
In 2008, Oppenheimer bid $172,500 during a charity auction for a private session with Ramtha, according to the Nisqually Valley News.
Oppenheimer also founded a private school in Rainier, The Phoenix Rising School, the newspaper said. The school had a licensing agreement with the Ramtha school and offered blind archery to the children enrolled there.
Morrison said that Oppenheimer is moving back to South Africa to develop a vertical gardening system that will help feed low-income citizens of South Africa.
The right buyer
Sotheby’s recently held an open house for potential buyers. A massage table was set up in the reflection room, makeovers were being offered in the dining room and gift bags from Nordstrom were given out. Outside, Fox Island-based chef Michael Monzon (“Chopped”) was making his signature tepanyaki.
“You’ve got to get the most number of eyeballs on it as possible,” said Cal Lyford, a regional vice president for Sotheby’s. “It’s got to be a broad range, particularly international.”
Morrison said the home’s proximity to both Seattle and world class golf are an attraction, as is Washington’s lack of a state income tax.
“That’s a very big deal,” Lyford said.
“We’re seeing a lot of that,” Morrison added.
Most likely, the future owner would have more than one home, the men said.
$11 million for a part-time home?
“It’s not a whole lot off from what Oprah just paid up in the San Juans,” Morrison said.