‘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.