For nearly forty years, Michael and Susan Stillman have called Waccabuc home. Prior to moving to this Lewisboro hamlet—dubbed “Westchester’s secret suburb”—the couple lived in Bedford Corners, South Salem, and Pound Ridge, always keeping within a 15 mile radius of Mount Kisco where Michael had a dermatology practice and treated patients at Northern Westchester Hospital. “We were renting a caretaker’s cottage on 100 acres, and we’d still be there today if Susan hadn’t said, ‘Let’s buy a house,’” says Michael with a laugh. They bought a small antique first, yet on weekends, they would drive through northern Westchester, looking for the perfect spot to settle for good.
“Every time we passed this place we would say, ‘Oh if this ever comes on the market, this should be our next house.” Then one Friday, Susan called me at the office and said ‘the house we dream of is coming on the market.’” They took a tour, fell in love, prevailed in a bidding war, and six months later, they moved in with two toddlers in tow.
Perched on a hill overlooking historic Mead Street, with the exception of extensive landscaping, the five-bedroom, brick structure appears true to its 1931 origins. According to local lore, Charles and Alice Mead Neergaard hired a female architect (a rarity, at the time) from New Canaan, Connecticut to design a Danish-farmhouse-inspired home on their 100-acre plot of land, and they named it “Gaard House” (gaard meaning “farm” in Danish). Alice, a tiny but formidable woman of substance, was raised in Waccabuc, along with her eleven siblings. In later years, Art Houlihan, founder of Houlihan Lawrence, coincidentally the real estate agency Susan has represented as an agent for several decades, owned the home with his wife, Joy.
After taking occupancy, the Stillmans turned their focus to the surrounding property. “No one had really done much with the outside of the house,” recalls Susan, an avid gardener. “Slowly, we started planting—boxwoods for their simplicity, peonies and irises for the seasonal color,” Susan says. “My taste was probably more traditional then, and now I’m getting more brazen and introducing more fun colors and textures.”
They also added a swimming pool and tennis court. “We used to have annual back-to-school parties,” she adds. “There would be 100 to 150 people here. It didn’t matter because kids were in the pool, on the tennis court, playing baseball. It was just great.” In later years, the family hosted son Jeremy’s bar mitzvah and daughter Julie’s wedding in the garden.
Retired from both his medical practice and competitive tennis play now, Michael is thrilled to have his three grandchildren join him on the court for lighthearted volleys as well as to welcome members of the northern Westchester SENSTA chapter—senior tennis players who play competitively on private courts throughout the area.
The beauty of the court’s setting has a lot to do with Susan who agreed to its installation as long as she could design the landscaping around it. “We had a meadow that had the perfect orientation,” she explains. Stone steps were carefully installed to lead up through the trees to a rock garden and terrace with plantings strategically placed to enhance the views.
Indoors, the home unfolds from a great room with a vaulted ceiling, whitewashed walls, and exposed timber beams that provide both structural support and vintage charm. A light-filled gathering place, this central hub boasts both seating and dining areas and has comfortably accommodated more than 20 for sit-down meals.
While Susan originally decorated the space with antiques purchased at auction, about ten years ago, she decided it was time for a change. The carefully curated collection was sold and replaced with comfortable modern seating, upholstered in light neutrals, accented with pops of color.
To the south, a two-story wing boasts the master suite and a sitting room on the main floor with a guest suite up above. A wing to the east is home to three additional bedrooms as well as the kitchen which is outfitted with vintage metal cabinets—still remarkably on-trend nine decades after installation, a butler’s pantry, and Susan’s office overlooking the courtyard.
With the children grown and flown, the Stillmans spend the majority of their time on the first floor or—when the weather permits—outdoors. After her daily runs, Susan cuts flowers in the gardens, they share summer suppers and sunsets on the terraces, and when their grandchildren come to visit, the Gaard House meadows, pool, and tennis court ring with laughter once again.