Two friends have set up a luxury handbag business from one of 
the best locations in York, reports MAXINE GORDON

PICTURES: Suzanne Braithwaite

FRANCESCA McClure is spoilt for choice when it comes to a room with a view at her home in York.

From the front, she looks out on to the River Ouse and from the back – one of York's most famous landmarks.

"My office actually looks on to Clifford's Tower," says Francesca, who moved back to her hometown three years ago with husband Neil.

She has set up a premium leather handbag company with friend and fellow creative Suzanne Braithwaite – another North Yorkshire lass.

The brand – Saskia & Rose London – sells fashion bags and accessories using high-quality calf leather. Designs include clutches as well as backpacks and mini coin purses – in a range of colours including black, white, monochrome, and khaki as well as soft pastels such as grey, pink and peach.

The bags are affordable too, with a price range of £75 to £160.

The pair have showed off their debut collection in a stunning photoshoot at Francesca's beautiful riverside home.

As soon as you approach the house, you know you are in for something special. You have to climb a set of worn stone steps to reach the narrow esplanade that leads to her four-story Victorian terrace, a Grade-II listed, three-bedroom house dating from 1862.

A pale grey door – a match for a Saskia & Rose handbag – opens on to a hallway and open-plan downstairs. The front and back reception rooms have been knocked through to reveal a spacious living area, with light flooding in from a large bay window overlooking the Ouse. Everything is white or pale grey – maximising the sense of airiness and calm.

"I love the open-plan space. It is really important to have living space. It is airy and a really creative space to work from," says Francesca.

York Press:

LIGHT AND AIRY: Open-plan living on the ground floor

A galley kitchen has white units, but a grey worktop. There is an Aga in emerald green, which was the only item to have been slightly damaged in the last flood (but luckily it was repairable). A far wall has been decorated in blackboard paint, presumably for easy note leaving. But instead of "buy milk" there is a chalk mark near the bottom showing the water level during the Boxing Day flood of 2015, it reads: "5m 25cm 27/12/15". That was the height of the Ouse above its normal level, explains Francesca, who admits she doesn't fret about the flood risk. "If you worried about flooding, you wouldn't live by the river," she says.

White marble floor tiles line the entire downstairs – which fit in perfectly with the historic building, but also make it easy to clean up if the flood waters come again. Electricity sockets are also fixed higher on the walls.

A grey carpet keeps in with the tonal theme and leads up the stairs to the first floor, where the front room, again overlooking the Ouse, has been made into a TV lounge. The original marble fireplace is the centrepiece, framed by two alcoves which have been tastefully turned into storage space with shelving above. When Francesca and Neil moved in, the alcoves were floor-to-ceiling book cases – the previous owner had been Matt Haig, the successful author who left York for Brighton three years ago.

There is a boutique-hotel-style bathroom, complete with oval free-standing tub, on this floor, as well as a study.

Another flight of stairs leads to the master bedroom, again facing the Ouse, and Francesca's office and studio – a generous-sized room with what must be one of the best views in the city – across the rooftops of Tower Street on to Clifford's Tower,

"You can't get this view anywhere else in York," says Francesca. "When I saw it, I just had to have the house!" On the top floor, a large attic guest bedroom also looks onto the iconic York landmark.

York Press:

OFFICE VIEW: Over Clifford's Tower

Francesca loves antiques and many of her cherished pieces have been bought over the years – several from Fully Furnished in York. She enjoys restoring them herself; in the lounge, there is a lovely drinks cabinet she has painted dark grey in an Annie Sloan chalk paint. Downstairs, an old wooden washstand has been brought back to life with a clean-up and a new piece of marble on the top to make a side table. Also, downstairs, a large window frame has been glazed with mirrors and sits upon an old-fashioned radiator, making the room appear even wider and lighter – a clever trick.

Francesca loves marble and has had many pieces especially cut for use in her home from local suppliers Marble Building Products at Full Sutton.

Also she and Suzanne, a former journalist now photographer, use marble as a backdrop in many of the photoshoots for Saskia & Rose handbags.

The women became friends while living in London. While Suzanne's background was in media, Francesca worked in retailing; she was once a luxury goods buyer for Harrods, specialising in handbags, and dealing with fashion giants such as Valentino and Ferragamo.

It was invaluable experience for setting up her own premium handbag company.

"I'd always wanted to set up a creative business," begins Francesca, 34. "I've always been entrepreneurial and always loved product development. I've always been a creative person; I've always been making and sewing – my mum always made her own clothes."

Mum is Maltese-born Therese, who Francesca describes as an early-day "WAG". She explains: "My dad is Chris Jones, who played for York City in the 1970s. He now works as a Radio York commentator."

From working in the industry, Francesca had a clear idea about the sort of handbags she wanted to make – and a sense of what the market, and the customer wanted.

York Press:

STYLE SETTING: From the Saskia & Rose summer collection

There will be just one collection a year, with the focus on selling timeless bags, that won't go out of fashion and at a mid-range price point. The best seller is the Saskia and Rose's signature bag – the Calista Zip Tote in black croc, priced at £160.

Francesca says: "I've always loved that structured, vintage shape from the 1950s and 1960s. I always used to buy bags from a charity shop or used ones my nana had or even my mum's. That's where that has emerged from."

The house has a small yard at the back, but who needs a garden when you have a forecourt overlooking the river?

Francesca says she makes the most of the location. "I love the river views. There is something so relaxing about living by the river. On Friday nights we sit out there with a glass of wine. The neighbours do it as well. It's a nice end to the week."