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From the outside, the barn glowed like a lantern. Inside, guests enjoyed dinner amid romantic shadows created by candles on the table and chandeliers glittering overhead. See more photos in the photo gallery below.
Michael Abrams was evasive about his plans when he invited 32 family members and close friends to celebrate his 50th birthday last year at the Michigan summer house he shares with his partner, Doug Elliott. The ten-acre property just outside of Saugatuck includes a main house, a guest cottage, and a horse barn (now horseless) with an adjacent indoor riding arena.
“We had just celebrated our 20th anniversary on the property with a big party two years earlier; we had 120 people, a tent, a live band,” says Abrams, a Chicago-based interior designer. “But this time we wanted to do something more intimate.” So instead of being the recipient of a surprise party, Abrams opted to throw one for his guests. He sent out invitations embossed with a cryptic hint (an image of a chandelier), asking everyone to wear white and arrive at 7:30 p.m.
But even as they nursed cocktails and nibbled on appetizers poolside at the circa-1901 farmhouse their hosts had so lovingly resuscitated from raccoon-infested squalor 11 years earlier, they must have wondered where exactly they would be dining. There was no indication.
“About nine o’clock, we called everybody to follow us,” says Abrams, and he and Elliott led a procession of white linen pants and flowy dresses to the horse barn, which a few weeks prior they’d had power-washed from top to bottom. “It was a nice little walk, a couple of minutes from the house, and when we arrived and opened the doors, everybody was wide-eyed,” he recalls.
They saw dozens of candles flickering against the warm, enveloping dark wood walls; three crystal chandeliers that Abrams had mounted from the rafters; and a long, elegantly set table sprinkled with glass “diamonds” stretching the length of the barn, flanked on each side by the old horse stalls. Resting on round silver chargers at each place setting were copies of the six-course menu, also embossed with that telltale chandelier. Hovering discreetly were caterer’s staffers, ready to serve.
“We didn’t get up from the table until midnight,” says Abrams. Surprise!
Photography: Matthew Gilson