Couple works to keep builder’s style in ‘petite maison’

Pierre and Jock Baker knew what they were getting into when they purchased the old vacant “castle” just south of LSU.

“I have always had older homes,” Pierre Baker said. “I know they are trouble, but with their trouble comes character, charm and history.”

And with the “petite maison,” that history was all in French.

The home was built in 1927 by James Broussard, LSU dean of administration and head of the Department of Romance Languages. Broussard was a devoted Francophile, who in 1935 established LSU’s famous French House, a large French chateau where LSU students and exchange students spoke French and immersed themselves in French culture.

The home remained in the Broussard family — passing to James and Nora Broussard’s son and daughter-in-law, Frederick and Vida Broussard — until the Bakers purchased it.

There were complications with the sale — it took a whole year. But finally, in 2003, it became the Bakers’ home.

“Miss Vida was very determined that the house not go commercial or be sold to a developer who might tear it down,” Pierre Baker said.

It would be another year before the couple would move in.

In the decades that the Broussards lived there, the home was decorated in an elegant, formal style.

The Bakers were determined to keep the original plan of the house, but they wanted their interpretation to be a little more casual.

“We are not too formal,” said Pierre Baker, a nurse with Hospice in His Care. “We want more of the feel of a French farmhouse.”

The Bakers did much of the work themselves, refinishing hardwood floors in the three upstairs bedrooms, fixing plaster walls and painting.

“We love doing it ourselves,” Pierre Baker said. “Nobody does it like you do it.”

In 2005, they gutted and redid the kitchen and butler’s pantry.

The front entrance, which faces Highland Road, opens to an elegant foyer with a circular staircase leading to a window partway up. The foyer is designed within the round turret with its magnificent conical roof.

The formal living room is to the right of the foyer with a cozy library to the back.

To the left of the foyer is a large dining room, where a full wall is given over to a mural depicting the Pont Neuf, a bridge on the Seine River in Paris. The mural, acquired by James Broussard, is from the French Pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

“When Vida and Fred Broussard moved here to take care of Nora Broussard, they found it in the attic of the garage,” Pierre Baker said. “They wallpapered it on the wall.”

The dining room opens to a sun porch, which the Bakers rebuilt after discovering a large amount of rot. The original home had no windows on the ground floor, but most rooms had French doors that opened to the outside. When the Bakers rebuilt the sun porch, they added a wall of windows.

The home also has a basement, a rarity for Baton Rouge. “We mainly use it for storage,” Pierre Baker said.

The Bakers are carefully restoring the home, project by project.

Jock Baker, a pharmacist, spends a lot of time maintaining the yard, which was completely changed when Hurricane Gustav took out eight oak trees and a number of mature camellia bushes.

Recently the Bakers added an outdoor kitchen and plan to build a kitchen garden with raised beds in the spring.

“I am planning it in my head,” Pierre Baker said.