Even though it was a total wreck, Jim Shannon knew that when his wife, Jill Craft, saw a for sale sign on the old Garden District house, it would be soon be theirs.

"I had loved that house for 30 years," said Craft.

And love is was the 96-year-old house needed.

Leaks from a second-floor bathroom had caused the ceiling in the first floor to fall into the kitchen. Most of the windows and almost all of the hardware were missing. There were cats and birds living inside and out.

But Craft, an attorney who calls herself an "armchair designer," said she knew she could bring the 5,000-square-foot house back to life.  

It had been built in 1924, the couple learned, by Lytle Don and Margaret Hearin, who lived in a small house across Government Street while their big house was being built.  

So the couple purchased it at the end of 2018, and on March 8, 2019, started a massive renovation led by Charles Plummer, of Lamp Construction.

One year later, the grand old house with spacious rooms, tall ceilings and elaborate woodwork is almost back to its former glory.

The pale yellow two-story stucco home features an impressive semicircular entrance with one-story wings with galleries, open from the second floor, on each side. One wing has a glassed-in sun porch, while the other is screened.

"We think of it as a winter sun porch and a summer sun porch," said Craft, who installed a large swing in the screened room. "We love to sit out here and sip wine and watch ballgames." 

A brick walkway leads to the front door, which is topped by a semicircular fanlight with glass side panels set in lead. When the couple bought the house, they found the broken fanlight in a muddy section of the backyard. Fortunately, glass artist Stephen Wilson was able to repair the entire area around the door.

The door opens to a magnificent foyer with a curved stairway, the railing of which continues around three sides of the landing on the second floor. 

The foyer, like the rest of the home, gleams underfoot with the original dark-stained hardwood floors.

To one side of the entry is the living room with moldings that create the effect of panels on the walls. The original fireplace with columns on both sides had been painted time and again. All of that old paint and various finishes were removed so it could be refinished in a warm natural brown. The living room opens to the glassed-in sun porch at the side and a TV room at the back. 

Opposite the living room is the dining room with the same panel effect with moldings painted white and walls painted African gray. The dining room opens to the screened sun porch at the side and a music room at the rear. 

The long narrow kitchen, which has been completely redone, extends across the back from the TV room to the music room, allowing for tons of counter space and storage. White cabinets, counters and subway tile accented with stainless steel appliances give the room a modern look that blends well with the traditional architecture of the home.

Upstairs are four bedrooms including the master, which has an original coal-burning fireplace.

Craft removed a door and took in part of the second-story porch to create a spacious closet. The couple also expanded the master bath by adding a large walk-in shower.

In the attic, they added a bathroom to create a third-story bedroom for Craft's daughter.

The house has one of the few basements in Baton Rouge, and it, too, has a full bath. It will soon be converted to a wine cellar. 

"Doing this house was a labor of love," Craft said. "Basically we didn't change anything. We didn't need to."