‘You topped every gift – forever' by Kate Ryan

I want to share the story of how one of my favorite books came to be. Reflecting on it reminds me of how magical it can be to create a book as a gift for someone – it’s deeply moving, something they will treasure forever. And it’s also a special process for me to be involved with as a designer.

As her 25th wedding anniversary approached, Deborah Roberts decided to create the ultimate gift for her husband: a custom-made illustrated book titled Remembrance of Things Past, featuring a collection of love letters and cards that her husband had sent her over the years. “I always saved them,” Deborah reveals. “I had nothing planned. I kept them in a box because they were too special to me to throw away.”

A friend told Deborah about us, and how we create one-of-a-kind archival books showcasing personal photographs, souvenirs, and mementos that are tailor-made to individual taste. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if my husband, was published and I did something with these letters?’” Deborah remembers. While her husband was away on a business trip, she rounded up every letter, note, and scrap of paper he ever sent – nearly 1,000 objects in total. She then loosely organized the material in binders and delivered them to me. My objective was to transform a lifetime of memories into a luxurious coffee table book that would warm your heart and blow your mind at the same time. Nervously I went to work.

It was very intense in the sense that these letters were so personal. I had to read everything to get a feel of who they were and their relationship over the years to understand the story as a whole. Deborah notes, “Maria picked out the things that told the story. For instance, the night I met my husband, it was a Halloween party at Area and I was wearing a silver wig. Years later, my husband wrote me a poem referencing the silver wig I wore the night that we met. I kept the wig all those years. Maria photographed the wig and put the poem that was years later next to the wig. She was able to connect pieces in our lives and put them together.”


We took the title, Remembrance of Things Past, from one of David’s favorite books, a Marcel Proust masterpiece. The final book became an opportunity to delve back and reflect on their lives together and the family they created. “Working with Maria was really fun,” Deborah says. “I’m a creative person and she is a creative person. My husband would write on any piece of paper, whether it was the inside of a paperback book or a pad of paper from the hotel. Maria reproduced those pieces of paper so that they look exactly like the real thing. When I saw the finished book, I was blown away. When my husband saw this book, he said, ‘You topped every gift I could ever give you – forever.’”

After Deborah presented the book to David, he wrote me a letter thanking me for creating this celebration of his life and marriage, noting that the book magnified and sanctified his love by bringing back all the sentiments of affection he had felt, written in his own words. As a book designer, it feels incredible to know that I can have this effect on people’s lives, giving them the opportunity to come together and share in the memories that evoke the happiest moments of their lives. 

Since the creation of Remembrance of Things Past, Deborah has continued to collaborate with us, creating The Book of Ganky, a book to celebrate the life and legacy of her husband’s grandfather. He was a business man and philanthropist and collected memorabilia about his family and life in scrapbooks. The book featured letters, newspaper articles, and photographs he kept throughout his life that held great meaning not only to him but to the members of the family. And by putting together this book and reproducing it in a small edition, these memories became available to everyone in the broader family.

Deborah notes, “We had my husband’s grandfather’s things in boxes in storage downstairs. These are the things you know you have, but you’re not looking through them. Maria took the key pieces, came up with a format and a story for the book. She created a beautiful object that you can on your table and leaf through it whenever you want.”

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Our collaboration continues, as we recently completed a book for Deborah’s daughter’s 30th birthday, a lavish volume that captures all of the highlights of her young life. And, without Deborah’s knowledge, her daughter made a book for her, simply titled Mom. It’s an amazing feeling to be such a trusted source over the years. Deborah has incredible taste and really understands design. But the most amazing thing is that she knows exactly what she wants. Even though she gives me carte blanche, her feedback is precise. She has an excellent eye for details and knows exactly when things are off or just right. I always think she could be a fantastic art director.

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I feel a special closeness to this family after making all of these incredible books that celebrate the power of love and commitment to each other. And their lives have inspired me to take even greater pleasure in my own. I have also learned an important life lesson from them: kindness is the greatest form of intelligence and the most empowering trait a person can have.

Cherishing Memories with Annual Family Books by Kate Ryan

We've made it our mission to help people get their most precious memories back into their everyday lives. One of our favorite ways to do this is by gathering favorite memories from a year into an annual family book. That way, the photos and memorabilia won't be buried on a hard drive or a box where nobody gets to see them. You can provide us with a year's worth of material, totally in raw form, and we can edit it for you down to the essential things to tell a story. Or, if you prefer, you can edit down to a few hundred images that best capture the story of that year, and we can take it from there.

These books really capture the stuff of life, preserving memories that might otherwise slip through the cracks. Along with big events like vacations, holidays, first days of school, etc., a family yearbook can capture the little things, like a special interest your child might have had for a while, or quiet family moments that you'll later look back on as the really important ones. We love to include keepsakes from the year such as cards, kids' artwork, ticket stubs, invitations — anything that you want to hold onto and remember for many more decades to come. We'll digitize these items so that it feels like the 3-D objects are there on the page, and include them wherever they go in the story. This is an archival way to not only preserve those items (so you can possibly clear them out of your house!), but also combine them with photographs to really capture your family's life in a given year.


After a few years of doing this, you'll have built a beautiful family library that only gains more meaning with time. We've heard from clients that over time, children especially love looking back at these books, to remember all that they've done and seen as they've grown. Please feel free to get in touch if you have questions about family yearbooks, or would like to start collaborating on a book for your family.

Case Study: Travel Book by Maria Mayer Feng

After a special vacation, making a book of your memories can be an equally special way of capturing and reliving your time away. A travel book is also a great way to share your memories with fellow travelers, or your friends and family at home.

We made this book for a client who had taken a big trip to Peru and Ecuador. This client is an artist who not only takes pictures on her phone throughout a trip, but also draws and paints watercolors along the way to capture all that she sees and does.

When she got home from her trip, our client mailed us a USB drive of her digital photos, plus the physical journal that she had been drawing in throughout the trip. We sorted her photos and scanned her drawings, which looked something like this:

We then retouched her drawings so that we could reproduce them in a professional and clean way, just like she had been drawing in the final book itself! We also photographed her journal so that she'd have a memory of the book she'd carried throughout the trip. We sorted out which drawings corresponded to which parts of the journey, and sometimes, we paired her drawing with a photo of the scene that it depicted.

We love how her drawings really bring alive the experience of her trip, as filtered through her own eye and hand. This book made a wonderful gift for her fellow travelers, who had probably been looking at her drawings over her shoulder with admiration throughout the trip.

Personal elements like drawings are always a great addition to a travel book, and if you're not an artist, these can also include handwritten captions, ticket stubs, maps, brochures, and more. For every project, we tailor every element of the book to its subject, using graphic elements, layout, size, binding and more to make the perfect book for each client. For this adventurous trip, this also meant highlighting some killer landscape shots that really captured the natural beauty they'd seen. What a fun project!

TIME Magazine names MOMMIE a Book of the Year for 2016 by Maria Mayer Feng

I am excited to share that TIME magazine has picked the 25 best photography books of the year for 2016—and one of them was Arlene Gottfried's MOMMIE, which I was honored to design!

Arlene and I put the first draft of this book together in 2012, when I was very pregnant with my first son. We spent a lot of time together editing the images down to the selection in the book, and then I designed the interior and cover. I hand-bound it and made 2 copies, one for her and one for myself as a studio copy. And with that, she went out to approach publishers. Eventually, PowerHouse in Brooklyn published it and engaged me as the designer—and it came out EXACTLY the way the dummy looked, which made Arlene and I very proud and happy. Congratulations, Arlene!