Making a Community: The Story of Sabot Hill, by Kate Buford


The Project
Biography by Design was asked to write a short history of one family’s unique Virginia estate: 2,000+ acres of historic land, which they divided into 52 large parcels to create an environmentally sensitive development. An important mission of the book was to detail the conservationist ideals that inspired the various restrictive covenants that have made Sabot Hill a development model. Another was to emphasize the hospitable community ethos, dating back to the 1920s, that inspired its creation.

The Process
Biography by Design co-founder, Kate Buford, began by interviewing the client and extended family members, who then provided names of additional interview subjects: developers, attorneys, surveyors and residents. To enhance the context, Kate researched local and family history through private histories provided by the family, as well as reliable published and online sources.

Family members also supplied vintage photographs, objects and maps to bring alive the the distinguished contributions of their parents and grandparents to the Virginia Commonwealth. The layout was designed by the Blackwell Press in Lynchburg, Virginia, who also oversaw the printing. Working closely with the client, we chose a paper, font and cover style to suit the low-key but handsome look the client wanted to achieve.

The Product
The resulting book is everything that we and the client hoped for: a slim, 30-page volume bound in hardcover and filled with elegant writing and art. The book became an instant treasure for the current owners of the 52 parcels of land, as well as for the client’s extended family. “The book was exactly what I had hoped it would be,” the client said. “Kate did a perfect job in capturing the motives and feelings that were wound up in the planning and development of Sabot Hill. It couldn’t have been any better.”


Biography by Design is pleased to announce that two of our talented team, Humphrey Keenlyside and Jessie Chaffee, are each celebrating new book launches!

Humphrey, based in London, educated at Cambridge, and trained as a lawyer in the U.K., launched his fifth law firm history on May 1White & Case: One Hundred Years & Beyond. Histories of Allen & Overy and Linklaters law firms are among his other works.

On June 20, 2017, Bloomberg Law published Humphrey’s lively and informative defense of the value of such corporate projects: “On Why Law Firm History is Worth Remembering.” Humphrey argues that such histories serve numerous higher order purposes, elevating them far above the realm of vanity projects. BBD is thrilled to have Humphrey lend his corporate history expertise to our own in-house projects!

Jessie, based in New York City, is currently on a book tour for her debut novel Florence in Ecstasy (The Unnamed Press). National Book Award-winner Alice McDermott calls it “a remarkable debut—frank, serious, eloquent.” The novel follows an American woman, Hannah, as she attempts to rebuild her life in Florence, where she is torn between the city’s vibrant present and the lore of the women of its past—the medieval and Renaissance mystical saints, famous for their ecstatic and sensual visions.

Jessie received a Fulbright grant to Italy to complete research for the novel, which was recently reviewed by NPR and Publishers Weekly, who describe it as “displaying not only diligent research but also an emotional intuition that brings Hannah to startling life.” Read an excerpt in Literary Hub. More information at


Kate Buford & Abby Santamaria


It’s Our 1st Anniversary

Biography by Design opened for business one year ago this month. In celebration of our first anniversary, we are sending this note of gratitude to our friends, family and colleagues for the wonderful referrals you have sent our way. Thank you!

Your referrals have yielded rich and rewarding projects, while also getting BBD off to the most promising of beginnings. We are thrilled with our firm’s growth and productivity in just one year, and we couldn’t have done it without you.

Check out the new “Clients & Projects” tab on our website to learn more about our completed and ongoing projects.

And please keep those referrals coming!


Kate Buford & Abby Santamaria

Celebrating A Successful First 9 Months!

Predicting the success of a new venture is risky business, but we launched Biography by Design last February with high hopes built on hard work and determination. We’re pleased to share the news that our efforts have paid off with a variety of projects, including: research for “Channels,” Audible’s new line of original podcasts; initiatives for Hunter College; full manuscript editing for numerous authors; and privately contracted books and monographs for several families. *

Biography by Design began as a firm specializing in “legacy” biographies of individuals, couples, families, firms and organizations. But we quickly learned a valuable lesson: not to limit ourselves. The demand for excellent writing, editing and research extends to projects we didn’t anticipate — genealogical research, editing a series of Young Adult novels, crafting a monograph for a historically and environmentally sensitive real estate development, and more.

At the same time, our original intent has been richly and rewardingly confirmed. We are currently working on the biography of a major mutual fund founder, the story of a key player in the collegiate athletics world, and a grandson’s story of his close relationship with his Nebraska grandfather, among others.

Everybody does have a story to tell. And we are privileged to help you tell yours. We love this work and look forward to many more years serving our clients.

Kate & Abby

* Holiday Gift Idea: Give a two-hour BBD consultation for $200 to a family member, colleague or valued nonprofit. We will find the story, suggest a narrative structure and propose next steps. Please contact us for more information and help placing your order.