An interview with Kate Brown of River Forest Manor
Photo taken by Sara Coffin Photography
As most of you know, I am from Eastern North Carolina. Now, I know some of you may think that eastern NC is like the rest of the state—but, it is not. There’s a harder southern drawl, things are typically slower, and honestly—the people are more tan. I miss living in this part of the state, there’s some sort of magic to it. That’s why when Kate agreed to chat with me about her venue in Belhaven, I was just so happy!
Kate is a wonderful point of reference for business, but also for brides in general. Kate is one of the owners of River Forest Manor located in Belhaven. Now, if you have never been to River Forest Manor (which just opened up only a few years prior), you should really take a trip to go see her in its glory. Imagine a white house with the tallest of columns belting loud and proud on the patio porch right in front of the water. I mean, it is something spectacular to see even if you are a local. It is such a sight that it will immediately put you at ease—this is a place for celebration in the happiest of ways. I am excited to share with you more from Kate on how River Forest Manor came to be what it is today.
The images that you will see in this blog post are not my images. Please see the verbiage written under each image to see which wonderful photographers shot which image.
N: Tell me how you came to be part of this wild and wonderful wedding industry. What is the history behind your venue?
K: My family is from Belhaven and I grew up on its waters, so the River Forest Manor & Marina has always been in my life.
When I was little, the River Forest Manor operated as a restaurant and hotel with a fully operating marina. It was a true landmark in the community and our town. The River Forest was a place that people gathered for a special meal or came to buy boat gas. Sadly, it fell into disrepair and eventually closed.
Together with a handful of investors all with local ties to Belhaven, I bought the historic mansion a few years ago in 2014. We were not quite sure what to do with the property at that time, but similarly timed marriages among our investment partners and some of our investors’ children led us to realize the grand place was meant to host life’s most important events.
More than a century-old, the River Forest had set the stage for great celebrations, large and small. We knew that its first owner built it for that purpose in mind and we were ready to restore it to do just the same.
We officially re-opened the doors in 2016 and the River Forest Manor & Marina again has become a place where the local community and people from all over can celebrate. It is again a place that will bring economic opportunities to our charming waterside town.
N: What sort of couples do you typically have at the venue, etc.?
K: The majority of our couples come to us seeking a memorable destination for their wedding. We’ve proudly hosted local couples as well as welcomed couples from throughout the state and many parts of the country.
N: What are some key things about The River Forest Manor that separates it from the other wedding venues? Is your venue considered a destination wedding venue?
K: We affectionately call the River Forest Manor & Marina our Grand Lady because she is a true historic gem and definitely a destination. When we purchased the property and started to do renovations, we had to search for key contractors who specialized in ornate ceilings and antique woodwork to ensure we restored her properly. Because of this, we now have the most gorgeous renovated details throughout the house and property.
We have 13 bedrooms on the property all perfectly suited to host bridal party members and guests. We’ve also created a network with the Bed & Breakfast owners and AirBnBs within the Belhaven community for guests to stay within walking distance of the Manor. We’ve even had guests dock their sailboats at our Marina for accommodations.
Our events team will also set up fun activities for the bridal party and guests including massages and facials, boat rides off our docks and even hunting excursions.
Our full-service Marina also makes the River Forest a unique setting that guest really enjoy. We always have boaters on our docks and they especially love to see the wedding festivities on our property. Many boaters will camp out on their vessels to watch the bride and groom depart—some will even sound their horns to send them off. It’s just amazing to hear and see so much celebration right here on the property. The guests love it, too. It truly is special.
N: Do you work off a preferred vendor list? If so, why? If not, are there any vendors that are absolutely necessary from a venues standpoint--like catering, etc.?
K: We do have a preferred partner list and it includes the companies we have previously partnered with to envision and create spectacular events. We appreciate professional, honest, and fun companies. However, we also appreciate it when a couple has their heart set on a specific vendor or partner—that allows us to broaden our network. We do ask that our caterers be licensed and bonded accordingly, but other than that we welcome all vendors.
N: How often do you receive images from photographers who have photographed weddings at The River Forest Manor? Which images stand out more from a venues perspective? Which ones are you more likely to share or showcase on your website?
K: We do receive images from the majority of our wedding photographers. We often receive our couple’s engagement photos, sneak peeks during and after the events and eventually the full wedding gallery. We love to share those photos with our community, on social media and our website. Of course, we always ask permission to share the images and are very courteous to every photographer to ensure credits are included.
N: What are some things that you wish more photographers did on a wedding day shooting wise? Anything dealing with communication you wish photographers did in advance?
K: We are firm believers in allowing the photographer to be his or her true artistic self. There is no limit to the images that could be created here, and every eye is different. Our Grand Lady photographs well—ha! Truthfully, we very much appreciate the opportunity to see the special moments each photographer captures.
N: If you've never worked with a photographer before--do you suggest having them reach out to you? Do you ever suggest them to come by to take a look at the property?
K: We know our brides, grooms and their families want the very best photos to remember their special celebrations and, therefore, I do recommend that photographers visit our venue prior to the events. If a photographer doesn’t have the knowledge of light or hasn’t seen the full property in advance, the photos may not work out as well as they could.
We’ve found that many photographers will scout the property during bridal portrait sessions and speak with the bride about ideas.
N: What makes for a good vendor relationship?
K: Our job is to make sure the event logistics are seamless. We ask planners to pass along timelines a few weeks before the wedding to notify us when vendors will start delivering materials, like tents and décor, to the venue and offer a schedule for the various activities.
With proper planning and communication between all vendors, we are able to better support our couples and their family to make sure the celebration they’ve dreamed about comes to life.