Enveloped in lush countryside, brides and grooms who celebrate their wedding day surrounded by The Studio Inn’s five-tier waterfall, pond and lavish gardens usually give little thought to the St. Albans venue’s rich history. Brides-to-be fall in love with the place because of its beauty and intimacy, says owner Datra Herzog. “So many of them have told me it looks like a romantic country house you’d find in France or Germany,” she says.

But behind all the romance, the venue’s origins stretch back more than a century. It was a stopping point for explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who in their notes marveled about nearby cliffs, and also served as a rest stop for paddle wheelers. The Studio Inn itself was built as a summer home for Irene Walter Johnson, wife of philanthropist and co-founder of the International Shoe Company. Renowned architect Theodore Link, who designed St. Louis Union Station, was commissioned to build the mansion. Then called ‘the chateau,’ the construction was completed sometime between 1910 and 1918, Herzog says.

Since purchasing the building in 2006, Herzog’s team has renovated much of the living space. The original hardwood flooring has been restored and a plaster finish has been applied to all of the main living space’s walls, she says. “When the Studio reopens in March 2011, it will boast four suites, all with private baths and private sitting areas,” she notes. “The Master Suite, Link’s Utopia, features a working fireplace, private covered patio, a king size bed and double closets and sinks with a new shower.” The main patio also has been recently restored to its original design, with limestone as was used in the original construction.

The venue’s nearby sister location, The Gardens at Malmaison, was initially built in 1843 as a barn, but Irene Johnson expanded it in 1928 and gave it the name ‘The Old Barn Inn.’ About 60 years later, the new owners renamed it again—calling it ‘Malmaison’ after Napoleon and Josephine’s French country estate. The venue had a final name change when Herzog’s team renovated and reopened it in May 2004.

Today the two locations host about 50 weddings, receptions, rehearsal dinners and private parties each year. “We can work with almost any budget,” Herzog says. She adds that brides-to-be receive comprehensive service—the venue hosts quarterly tastings for booked and prospective brides, and helps them coordinate almost every aspect of their big day.

“For me, the best part about being in this business is that I get to spend about a year with these families helping to plan the big day and by the end of that process, I have made a lot of good friends who still send cards at holidays, frequent the restaurant and send great photos—not only of the wedding, but of future grandchildren and family gatherings,” Herzog says. “By extension I become part of the family.” LN

On the Cover: Sister venues The Studio Inn at St. Albans and The Gardens at Malmaison boast a rich history and tradition. Extensively restored in recent years, the two locations host more than 50 weddings, receptions, rehearsal dinners and private parties each year. For more information, call 636-458-0131 or visit studioinnstalbans.com or gardensmalmaison.com.

Cover design by Erica Fisher