Weddings can totally change a woman’s personality, at least for one day. No matter what her real-life style is, every woman secretly dreams of being transformed into a fairy-tale princess for that walk down the aisle. The right dress can go a long way toward making that dream come true, of course, but the magical transformation isn’t complete without a blissfully romantic setting.

    When it comes to romance, The Studio Inn at St. Albans is just what the fairy godmother ordered. High on a hillside overlooking the majestic Missouri River, the former mansion, designed by renowned architect Theodore Link (of Union Station fame), took three years to build and was completed in 1932. It was commissioned by Irene Walter Johnson, widow of philanthropist Oscar Johnson, a founder of International Shoe Company. She used it as a summer home and called it ‘the chateau.’ Recently renovated as a European-style bed and breakfast, it now serves as a charming, historic venue for relaxing weekend getaways, corporate retreats, special events, and, yes, weddings.

    “Brides-to-be instantly fall in love with the place because it’s so intimate and beautiful,” says owner Datra Herzog. “They can’t believe it’s only 10 minutes west of Chesterfield—so many of them have told me it looks like a romantic country house you’d find in France or Germany. It’s a way to have a destination wedding without getting on a plane.”

    Surrounded by lush countryside, the inn can accommodate up to 240 guests outdoors and about 40 indoors, although it’s primarily an outdoor site. “We can set up a tent for dining and dancing, our largest is 30 by 70 feet and holds up to 240 guests,” Herzog says.

    The ceremony site includes a five-tier waterfall and pond and lavishly landscaped gardens abloom with magnolias and peonies. “One of the benefits of such a gorgeous natural setting is that you don’t have to spend a fortune on flowers and decorations, as you would in a hotel ballroom or a hall,” Herzog says. “It’s all here.”

    Catering is provided exclusively by The Gardens at Malmaison, also owned by Herzog and itself a venue for weddings and corporate events. “It was my dream to have a place where families could come together to celebrate once-in-a-lifetime experiences like weddings and anniversaries, and now I have two,” she says.

    The inn has a high-ceilinged great room, formal dining room, a private study, card and billiard rooms, and five bedrooms, all charmingly decorated. “Overnight accommodations for the bride and groom include the ‘Goodnight, Irene’ suite, which used to be Irene Walter Johnson’s main guestroom and has windows overlooking the river and the St. Albans Golf Course,” Herzog says. “It’s peaceful and quiet, an ideal place to relax after the wedding.”

    Herzog enjoys helping brides-to-be coordinate every aspect of their big day. “We hold quarterly tastings for booked and prospective brides, so they can come out, decide on a menu and meet my vendors,” she says. “We can work with almost any budget.” She hosts about 20 weddings a year at the Studio Inn, and another 25 at The Gardens at Malmaison. It’s hectic, but she loves it. “I can’t think of a happier business to be in,” she says. “When you spend up to a year working with the bride, you make friends and start to feel like you’re part of the family.”