In Arrowsic, a Father and Son Dream Up a Gem of a Retreat

On jeweler Aaron Ruff’s multifaceted home, a three-sided, glass-walled bump-out faces the Sasanoa River.

the three-sided, glass-walled bump-out of jeweler Aaron Ruff’s multifaceted Arrowsic home
By Sarah Stebbins
Photos by Rachel Sieben
From our June 2024 issue

The Arrowsic home Aaron Ruff and his father, Paul, designed together began as a simple post-and-beam structure. “Then, my dad kept coming up with wild ideas, most of which I said yes to,” says Aaron, a Brooklyn-based jewelry designer. In 2015, he and his wife, Esther Hwang, purchased land on the Sasanoa River near his hometown of Dresden and enlisted Paul, a contractor, to help them build a retreat. Aaron wanted a cupola like those he’d admired on sea captains’ houses and Paul matched it with a three-sided, glass-walled bump-out on the home’s back side. The interior centers on a spiral staircase crafted by Aaron’s sister Leah, who works with their dad, while the cupola is accessed via an 1800s cast-iron spiral staircase Paul convinced the couple to lower in with a crane. But when he suggested setting the house on the turntable from the former Richmond-Dresden swing bridge so the building could follow the sun, they waivered. In the end, it was a bridge too far.

Aaron Ruff and Esther Hwang’s 4-year-old daughter, Sen, and 6-year-old son, Ayu, play in the dining area located within the home’s river-facing bump-out

Dining Area

Aaron and Esther’s 4-year-old daughter, Sen, and 6-year-old son, Ayu, play in the home’s river-facing bump-out, fitted with a trio of doors the couple hopes will someday lead to a wraparound porch. Paul milled the exterior shingles and interior framing from pine trees cleared from the property. The pine flooring, from T.S. Mann Lumber Co., in Massachusetts, came from 19th-century factory beams. “My own house that I built is probably 50 percent reclaimed,” says Paul, who scavenged some of his most prized features, including tin ceiling tiles and light fixtures, from Augusta’s circa 1896 opera house. “Growing up with that, Aaron probably got the bug.”

Stairs

The spiral staircase Paul and Leah crafted with slate treads, antiqued-steel balusters, and a pine railing harmonizes with the 19th-century cast-iron spiral staircase Paul unearthed on Craigslist and trimmed with a pine balustrade. Aaron’s friend and studiomate, children’s book author and illustrator Oliver Jeffers, painted the mural when he and his family visited. “We were playing around with the idea of him painting something and then, very quickly, we were setting up scaffolding,” Aaron says.

Aaron Ruff's father and sister outfitted the spiral staircase with slate treads, antiqued-steel balusters, and a pine railing
Cypress cabinetry with slate tile and countertops and an antique sink in the kitchen

Kitchen

Cypress from a water tank that once served a local summer camp became elegantly grained cabinetry that the owners juxtaposed with slate tile and countertops and an antique sink from the former Monson Maine Slate Company (refinished by Sheldon Slate, in Monson). The room’s mix of honey, blue-black, graphite, and onyx shades recalls Jeffers’s pine-framed mural, the palette in the primary bath (next page), and handcrafted jewelry combining sapphires and recycled gold from Aaron’s Digby and Iona line.

in the living room, an antique lamppost supports a lintel milled from a neighbor’s oak tree

Living Area

An antique lamppost supports a lintel milled from a neighbor’s oak tree. Watercolors by another friend and studiomate of Aaron’s, children’s book author and illustrator Kevin Waldron, flank a vintage pine powder-room door from a Waterville office building. Other pine doors from the same building were turned on their sides to create wainscoting

Noguchi lanterns float cloudlike beneath a vaulted ceiling in the primary bedroom

Primary Bedroom

Noguchi lanterns float cloudlike beneath a vaulted ceiling paneled with the same salvaged pine used for the flooring. A wall hanging by Esther, a textile designer and sculptor, decorates a stone-veneer chimney. Initially, the couple planned to put in a woodstove, but Paul wanted to build a Rumford fireplace (an 18th-century design with a shallow, angled firebox that reflects heat). “Then, my dad was like, if we’re doing the Rumford fireplace, we may as well put in a pizza oven and a big mantel and bench, and it just sort of snowballed,” Aaron says with a laugh.

Bath

The wet room and soaking tub, rendered in slate and cobalt ceramic tile, were inspired by setups the couple admired in Japan. A slate sink from Kennebunk’s Old House Parts Company rests on antique brass legs. The 1920s mirror from a New York bar came from Aaron’s salvage stash, which also included brass towel hooks, the tub’s vintage faucet, and a steel locker from a New York firehouse that serves as a closet in the primary bedroom. “I’ve been collecting things my whole life in anticipation of building a home,” he says.

slate and cobalt ceramic tile in the bathroom
May 2024, Down East Magazine

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