Transforming historic properties into beautiful, functional living spaces is celebrity designer Brandon Branch’s passion. Now he’s turned his attention to an iconic structure in St. Francisville. Best known for his work on the Bravo Channel show, Southern Charm Savannah, Brandon and his husband Jim Johnston recently relocated to the Felicianas, where they’ve trained their aesthetic eye and business acumen upon the St. Francisville Inn, the 1878 Steamboat Gothic bed and breakfast on Commerce Street. After months of renovation, Brandon and Jim are reopening the refurbished inn this month, revealing a knock-your-socks-off interior scheme, room service and luxurious touches normally associated with big city accommodations.
Both Jim and Brandon are Southerners. Jim grew up in Savannah, while Brandon is from Tylertown, Mississippi, with family ties in Franklinton, LA. “We’re really excited about being in St. Francisville,” says Jim, who handles the operations side of the project. “We were both raised to believe that home is where you make it,” says Jim. “The people here have been so welcoming and friendly, and we love letting our dogs off their leashes.”
Also known as the Wolf-Schlesinger house, the building has served various functions during its history. It has lived lives as a doctor’s office, a boarding house, a general store, and a purveyor of made-to-order coffins. By the latter part of the twentieth century, years of abandonment had masked much of its original charm, but in 1980 Florence and Richard Filet bought and restored it, setting it on its forevermore course as a B&B. A decade later it was purchased by Patrick and Laurie Walsh, who added a swimming pool and more guest rooms. And then, in 2018, came Jim and Brandon.
“Our goal was to make this the area’s first four-star inn,” says Jim.
To realize their specific vision for the house, Brandon and Jim embarked on a total transformation of the structure and grounds, taking the building down to the studs, and drawing it back up again with modern lighting and amenities, an expansive, welcoming bar and a refurbished swimming pool surrounded by the kind of patio furniture you’d find at the Ritz-Carlton. “Brandon is exceptionally good at blending antiques with new touches,” says Jim. The retooled courtyard and grounds were redesigned to appeal to a new generation of brides and grooms. All eleven luxury guest rooms feature light blue ceilings, cream trim and wall color in either navy or light grey, with bright new furnishings and fixtures, walk-in showers and upscale linens.
While the guest rooms are intended for over-nighters, the new upscale bar, The Saint, looks sure to become a favorite destination for locals, too. Brandon and Jim bring with them a personal passion for entertaining, and in this space, it shows.
The Saint’s vibe is crisp and warm, and it boasts an engaging cocktail menu featuring your classic bracers like Sidecars and Manhattans, alongside Savannah’s signature drink, Chatham Artillery Punch. Breakfast and brunch will be served in the dining room. A rotating menu for dinner will feature small plates of local cuisine with a heavy influence of Savannah staples, cooked in the newly renovated kitchen by Johnston and Branch themselves. How’s that for true southern hospitality?
“We really wanted this to be an experience for guests,” says Jim. “We think St. Francisville is a great place to be, and we want to take part in this culture of welcoming that’s so welcomed us.”
The St. Francisville Inn opened on April 1. For more information, please call (225) 635-6502 or (800) 488-6502.