AIA Houston Gingerbread Competition

This year, VLK participated for the first time in the AIA Houston Gingerbread Competition. Our team was made up of VLK Principal of Creative, Ken Hutchens, VLK Interior Designer, Erin Rose, VLK Project Coordinator, Michelle Gallup, VLK Project Architect, Susan Wisa, VLK Interns, Sydney Alford, and myself, Krista Thomas. We have been keeping a keen eye on the previous competitions and finally decided that 2017 was our year to give it a shot. Most of our group had little previous decorating experience but we didn’t let that stop us. What I found throughout this process is there are many similarities between pastry design and the field of architecture. One similarity is creating something physical. Whether a client orders a cake, or the curation process begins a new building, the idea is the same. The client sets the basis of design and it is up to you as the designer to make those requests a reality.

When the opportunity to sign up for the Gingerbread competition transpired, there was not a doubt in my mind that, as a team, we would be able to create something beautiful. First, we had to pick a design and since this was our first year, the choice was obvious. We all agreed to go with a traditional gingerbread house on an enhanced site. Second, we knew we needed to practice before the competition. We held a “Decorating 101” course one day after work. This helped us learn what each other’s strong suits were and allowed us to prepare for the competition. We practiced the proper techniques around a piping bag, played with some decorating tips, and even practiced making a few trees made from ice cream cones! This made for a messy evening in the office, but ultimately was a huge success and helped boost confidence for those who were a little hesitant in participating.


Erin Rose became our arborist, as she was in charge of all the trees on the site. She used green buttercream icing, upside-down ice cream cones, and waffle bowls. For an added touch, Erin used multicolored candy-coated chocolates to add festive lights to the trees and a candy snowflake for a topper. Sydney Alford acted as our groundskeeper and she assisted Susan Wisa and Ken Hutchens with creating the most magical site. Susan and Ken worked hand-in-hand to create the topography using sheets of Rice Krispies. The Krispies are a trade secret that works wonders for trying to carve out a unique shape while still maintaining a strong foundation to build upon. Once Susan, Ken, and Sydney felt we had adequate grading, they covered the entire base with white buttercream. To add contrast, we used a mixture of compacted brown sugar with crushed graham crackers to cover the trail that led up to the house. As an added feature, we carved out a pond that had two levels to create the look of a small waterfall cascading over the edge of the site. To create the water effect, we flooded the area by using three different colors of piping gel; blue, silver, and white. The swirling together of the three colors helps animate and give motion to the pond. My favorite part of the pond had to be the miniature ducks that were Ken’s number one request! In my opinion, it was little details that really helped enhance the overall site and make it all come to life.


For the house, we agreed we didn’t want typical rectangular windows. Instead, we used a fun cookie cutter so they had a more whimsical shape. The windows turned out beautifully and added a little dimension and color to the house. For the roof, we added texture by using pretzel rods then added royal icing and shredded coconut at the eave to give the effect of snow. The sides of the house were detailed with white royal icing and red for the door.

The competition ran from 10 am to 3 pm and we used just about every minute of that time to construct our gingerbread house. The last thirty minutes felt like a sprint to the finish, but luckily, we were just adding last-minute finishing details such as using powdered sugar and a sifter to create the look of a fresh snowfall over the trees and house. As team captain, I was extremely proud of the work that our team pulled off especially because most of our team members were new to pastry design. Our design was classy and clean, and not to mention, absolutely stunning! The pictures just don’t do it justice. This experience was great to step out of the office to work on something a little out of the norm.