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Michael Bruno Goes Inside Old Mill Farm

On a cold January afternoon, I arrive at Old Mill Farm in Greenwich, Conn. I am immediately taken with the sheer size of the property: 75 acres of meandering backcountry, flower gardens, a spring-fed lake, bridle trails, extraordinary beauty stretching from pasture to pasture. There is no question why its owner, Richard Lichter, fell for it in the first place. It is one of Greenwich’s most legendary estates, having once belonged to Mel Gibson. It also has a provenance stretching back all the way to 1927, when investment banker and decorated World War I pilot George L. Ohrstrom commissioned architect Charles Lewis Bowman to build the sprawling gentleman’s farm.


Old Mill Farm is the kind of property that comes along once in a lifetime. Only a few can say they have had the fortune of ever visiting it, much less owning it. And now, Lichter, a Wall Street financier, and his designer-wife Margrit Strohmaier, will be parting with it. The couple recently listed the estate for $31,500,000 with Tamar Lurie of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Greenwich. I ask about them about their experiences as estate owners while we tour Old Mill Farm and their stunningly restored 16,000-square-foot Elizabethan English Tudor.

Michael Bruno Do you remember what immediately struck you when you saw it for the first time?

Richard Lichter Once entering the gates of the estate, there is an elegance of a magnificent fountain lined with manicured trees shooting water seven feet up from five jets that frame a circular driveway in front of a truly spectacular home. On that sunny spring day, it was magical. Upon entering the house, I was struck with the great room, featuring a 45-foot ceiling, wood paneling from the 1600s and stained-glass windows. It was like being in a grand castle, yet it was such a happy, inviting feel. The adjacent library, dining room and breakfast room were equally amazing and something you just don’t see in other homes.

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Michael Bruno The great room is easily one of the most spectacular rooms in the house. There must be some legends behind it!

Richard Lichter We have been told many times that the great room, along with the dining room and library, is the most spectacular in Greenwich. Our home was the destination for many elaborate parties in the early days, and we have newspaper articles discussing the Who’s Who that attended these events. There were many sit-down dinners, where the tables were set up in the great room and dining room. We were told that there were some spectacular masquerade society parties centered in the great room as well. Mel Gibson also had celebrity parties in the great room.

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Michael Bruno Tell me about the renovations.


Margrit Strohmaier Our main objective was to modernize, add brightness and repair but retain all the character of the house. Specifically, we completely renovated six bathrooms and updated several others. Many built-in closets and cabinets were added. We modernized the plumbing, added lots of down lighting and a 32-lamp Baccarat crystal chandelier in the great room, updated electricity and wiring, completely redid the theater with a state-of-the-art system, added a full music system throughout the house and outdoors, installed where needed and repaired hardwood floors, repaired walls and repainted. A new well was added, with new pumps and the 1,700-foot water main replaced, and 200 eight-foot evergreens were installed on the property. All the pool, fountain and irrigation equipment was replaced, outdoor lighting was repaired and updated, and a 12-camera security system was installed, along with many other updates and renovations.

Michael Bruno If Charles Lewis Bowman were alive, what do you think he would say about the home as it stands today?

Richard Lichter He would be delighted that the home looks the same—except for the updates that were not available in the 1920s to make the home more comfortable and efficient. Things like central air conditioning and recessed lighting were not available when he designed the home. 

Margrit Strohmaier We used the highest standards in craftsmanship and materials, and so the renovations would make him proud. He would be delighted with the landscaping, which is spectacular, like the home he designed. 

Michael Bruno Which spaces have worked best for your family?


Richard Lichter We have an 8-year-old and a golden retriever. The kitchen and the large adjacent sitting area are places we have gravitated toward. Most of our meals are taken in the breakfast room, which has a fabulous open view of the property and an amazing mural signed from the 1950s painted on all its walls. I love dining there, and still my eyes keep noticing additional details of the beauty of the wall murals. The library has been an amazing room for quiet study and small meetings. We have a TV room off the kitchen and one upstairs off the master bedroom (with a kitchenette) that we use regularly when we are not watching movies in the theater. The guest wing of two bedrooms and two baths has allowed total privacy when guests stay over.

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Michael Bruno Do you have any favorite memories in the house?

Richard Lichter Some wonderful pool parties and Christmas parties, children guests trying to navigate the maze, touch football and soccer games on the back lawn, hiking and quiet reading in the gardens and on the island, tennis matches that went into the night but continued with the night lighting, playing chess outside on the life-size chess set in the chess garden, picking and eating some of the best and freshest organic apples from our orchard.  We have four varieties, and pears, peaches and cherries, also. 

Margrit Strohmaier We have also “camped” in the log cabin (though it has electricity and water). 

Michael Bruno All of the gardens on the property are organic?

Richard Lichter Yes. There are 26 apple trees and six other fruit trees. My wife bakes her own apple pies during the fall. She uses herbs and eats the berries from our garden all the time. This is a great place for families with children…and dogs, of course!

Michael Bruno I understand you made a tremendous amount of infrastructure improvements and efficiencies since purchasing the estate. Is it your hope to pass them on to the new owner?

Richard Lichter Yes. As an experienced private equity professional, I am accustomed to turning around good companies that are run inefficiently. I enjoy the challenge of this. Similarly, with Old Mill Farm, I vastly improved its management so it operates very efficiently and for a small fraction of the previous cost (literally, about an 80% cost reduction), which in total is surprisingly low. There were many changes. It is now a well-oiled turnkey operation requiring little management, which a new owner can easily take over with little effort. Also, the well system was updated, while the pool, fountain and irrigation have all-new equipment. All required maintenance has been completed, and systems have been modernized to the highest standards.

Michael Bruno What kind of buyer do you see purchasing this estate? 

Richard Lichter Families who want a luxurious lifestyle with great outdoor activity and have the taste to appreciate amazing unique architecture not existent in the multitude of large, newly built homes, most of which are relatively nondescript and forgettable. The property is also set up for large and intimate parties, both indoor and outdoor. In fact, the Clintons inquired about having their daughter’s wedding at Old Mill Farm.

Michael Bruno is the creator and founder of 1stdibs, the online luxury marketplace for antique and vintage design, and the creator of HousePad App, a new lifestyle app set to launch spring 2015. 


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Michael Bruno Goes Inside Old Mill Farm

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