ginny branch stellinginterviewswhat's in your toolbox

What’s in Your Toolbox: Aaron Ruff

by Ginny

Brooklyn-based jewelry designer Aaron Ruff creates pieces that are equal parts romantic and gritty. His past life as a carpenter and cabinetmaker combined with his playful and nostalgic sensibilities are the blueprint for what is Digby and Iona. This androgynous jewelry line is comprised of several different collections that reflect Aaron’s new antiquarian style and dedication to his craft. I personally wish I could live in his studio! — Ginny

*Full Disclosure: I have been stalking following Aaron’s personal blog, a catalog of his vintage/antique findings, for quite some time now. All you vintage hounds should visit Grit & Steel and prepare yourselves for some serious Americana envy.

1. Design*Sponge: What is in your toolbox?

Aaron Ruff: Gooseneck hallmark stamps, ring mandrel, carving wax, tweezers, liver of sulphur (oxidizer), pliers, saws, jewelry parts, brass and silver wire and findings, unassembled castings, and a box of diamonds.

2. Design*Sponge: Fill in the blank, “When I am in my studio, I feel ______.”

Read the full interview with Aaron after the jump . . .

3. Design*Sponge: What is on the top shelves of your inspiration library right now?

Aaron Ruff: Old indigo swatches, photos scraps and random bits.

4. Design*Sponge: How do you keep yourself organized? Do you have an agenda book, and do you make to-do lists?

Aaron Ruff: It’s an exercise in controlled chaos. I don’t make lists but keep a pinboard of current projects and photos for inspiration above my workbench.

5. Design*Sponge: If you could have one superhero (or magical) power, what would it be and why?

Aaron Ruff: Time travel would be pretty nice. Even if I couldn’t bring back mementos.

Photo Credit: Malcolm Brown

6. Design*Sponge: What is the best advice you have ever received, and what is the one piece of advice you would offer to a young artist/designer?

Aaron Ruff: To just go for it and not be afraid to eat ramen for a while.

7. Design*Sponge: How do you combat creative blocks?

Aaron Ruff: Constant distraction helps. My studio garden also. I travel as much as possible, even if it’s just a day trip outside of the city now and then to get out of the studio. Also, I always keep a couple of half-finished collections on the back burner, so if I’m stumped on one, I just move on to another for a little while. Whichever one comes to fruition first gets released.

8. Design*Sponge: Where do you like to shop for inspiration?

Aaron Ruff: Flea markets, estate sales, dumpsters, and Dead Horse Bay. Anywhere I can dig.

9. Design*Sponge: If you could peek inside the studio/toolbox of any designer/artist/craftsperson, whose would it be and why?

Aaron Ruff: Being an ex-woodworker, I’d love to get a look in George Nakashima’s workshop. I bet he had some really pretty chisels.

Photo Credit: Malcolm Brown

10. Design*Sponge: If you could make a master mix-tape of music that is inspiring you at the moment, what would it include?

Aaron Ruff: Black Keys, Harry Nilsson, Band of Horses, and Radiolab, with a bit of opera mixed in for the serious days (Wagner is best).

Suggested For You


  • Oh yay – what a perfect opportunity to ask Aaron something I’ve wanted to know for a good while: why is Jareth the only Labyrinth piece??

    A Person Who Knew All the Lines to the Entire Movie As a Child (and who also LOVES your collections based on our childhood movies :)

  • Swoon and a 1/2! Also, I may need that deer ring. Does it say how to get one and I’m missing it?

  • So really, this Design Sponge dating service is going to happen, yes? Great post nonetheless :) Lots of great inspiration for “renovating” my workspace (really, just clearing some cobwebs and embracing the history of the space).

  • “Anywhere I can dig.” That pretty much sums up my shopping feelings as well – it’s no fun if there’s not a quest involved. I love seeing creative people’s workspaces!