The Making of The Estate at River Run

A Documentary

A huge thank you to our friends at MV Wedding Films for creating this special film about our journey! 

River Run Manor was the compilation of the life’s work of coal baron William Blair Massey as a place to celebrate and make memories with friends, family, and business associates. Originally built as a private residence, this spectacular piece of art tells quite a story.  

The land was purchased in the late 70’s and early 80’s. It is made up of a collection of acreage from neighboring landowners and seven lots of the River Cliff subdivision just as it was beginning to be established. Nearing 62 acres with an expansive 2,400 linear feet of James River waterfrontage and a sought-after stretch along River Road, made this property quite the choice for a place to call “home.” Nestled in the equestrian hub of the county, the Massey family had quite a place to foxhunt and enjoy their privacy on the river.  

Site work began on the land terracing in 1979 and 1980, bringing in an enormous amount of soil to perch the mansion on a picturesque view of the sunsets. The bluff created the perfect precipice to enjoy from the Brick terrace or to enjoy awakening to the view from the primary suite. The exact viewpoint from the wall of arched windows in the master bedroom is no accident, and we are so grateful our guests get to wake up to that sought after sight all these years later!

Construction continued in late 1980 as half a dozen site contractors set up shop with their office trailers under the oak grove (which has now become one of our ceremony areas!) to manage the intense years of craftsmanship ahead. The mansion's interior boasts extravagant architectural embellishment built by Taylor and Parrish Construction from 1981-1987. This exquisite Georgian Revival offers 22,000 square feet of opulence towering over the mighty James River.​ 

River Run Manor features an upper brick promenade surrounded by a limestone balustrade and opens to a double curved staircase to the lower terrace. Marble floors, ornamental cornices, plaster friezes, 18-foot columns with gilded Corinthian capitals, and custom crystal chandeliers please the eye from the onset.

The interior designer behind the magnificent decor was Diane Allard Saunders, from Anne Woods Ltd Interiors in Charlottesville, Virginia. Saunders used her extensive knowledge of historic 18th century English interiors to furnish and decorate the house in a manner that was lavish, meant for English royalty, and well-fitting to the Georgian ​Architectural Style of the property. Mrs. Saunders worked in partnership with the client, the architect, and her team to help the future guests feel as though they were stepping into an 18th century English Manor House built for a royal family.

All of the woodwork in the Grand Entry Hall was hand-glazed and stippled in several shades of cream and beige. If one looks closely, one may spot a design theme throughout the house of the oak leaf and acorn, which Mr. Massey used as a symbol for himself. The plaster cornice features this oak leaf and acorn detail and the custom-designed, hand-printed damask wallpaper features both the leaf and acorn motif as well as Mr. Massey's initials, “WBM”, as the central focus of the design. The upholstered cornices in the grand entry hall were drawn directly from Mrs. Saunders's imagination but have all the style and elegance of the 18th century. The 24 carat gold Corinthian columns are hand embellished and stunning. The mahogany doors throughout the two-story entry hall with their egg and dart trim date back to Greek and Roman architectural style symbolizing both life and death. The five sets of double doors are quite a show piece transitioning the visitor into the connected spaces.  
The hand-carved dining room table was custom-made in England to Mrs. Saunders's design and fabricated by Smith & Watson in New York City. The table itself is adorned by a large, 5 part silver and mirrored “plateau,” purchased for the Masseys by Mrs. Saunders from a fine dealer in New York City. 

2019 marked the start of the Estate's new life as venue for weddings and private events, but there remained much work to do in order for the house and the surrounding property to reach its full potential. In the following months and years, the Estate would undergo extensive renovation, turning it into what you see today. 

Originally built as River Run Manor…

All of the custom hand-sewn window treatments throughout the house were inspired by designs from famous 18th century English houses and pattern books, and designed by Saunders. The green silk damask on the dining room windows is a reproduction of an 18th-century style damask that was in the house of the woman who founded the Girl Scouts of America, Juliette Gordon Low, and was manufactured by Scalamandre’ fabrics in New York and custom created specifically for River Run.  

In the main kitchen, one is instantly drawn in by the elegance of the towering cabinets. What one might not notice immediately, however, is a hidden gem: the hand-painted panels at the tops of the kitchen cabinets. These panels, hand-painted by Bill Ryan, who was the Director of Special Exhibitions at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. They were based on a set of whimsical hand-painted Staffordshire china depicting fox hunting. Alongside their playful design, however, the panels also paid indirect homage to Mrs. Massey, who was an avid fox hunter.
The “Drawing Room,” [later named the Cameo Ballroom in its second life], has an elaborate hand-molded plaster ceiling in the grand 18th century English style. The design features acanthus leaf scrolls as well as griffins and other faces hidden within the overall arrangement. Although no longer present in the room, the original decor included an enormous, custom-carved wool rug that was a direct reflection of the plaster ceiling above, also manufactured for the original owners. 

The double-height ballroom features a musicians’ gallery running around 3 sides of the room and an extravagant English Oak spiral staircase. The elaborate plaster ceiling features lions and griffins painted in many shades of blue and is based on the colors and designs of Chinese Wedgewood porcelain from the 18th century. The set of ballroom chairs with interlocking gilded laurel wreaths were once part of the collection of Castle Howard in England - perhaps better known in recent years for being ‘the home of the Duke’ in the Netflix original series Bridgerton. 

In the musicians' gallery is a beautiful 3-piece suite of hand-carved and gilded settees and chairs that was commissioned for the ballroom from Frederick P. Victoria & Sons in New York City. The suite is based on an 18th century original, and the style is referred to as “English in the French taste,” as it mimics French furniture of the same period. The suite is covered in a hand-woven silk brocade from France based on an original 18th-century French design.

From the very beginnings of its construction to the modern celebrations of love and laughter that are toasted there today, the Estate at River Run has long been a symbol of dedication and intricate concentration. Today, River Run continues the fierce commitment of attention to detail as the Massey’s when they designed and produced this great piece of art.

We’d like to give a special thanks to William A. Cobb, who worked on the house as a design assistant to Diane Allard Saunders from 1983-1986, without whom we could not have put together this narrative. His wide breath of knowledge and passion for the property helped us in developing a richer understanding of just how special this place is. 

The Making of The Estate at River Run…