The Modernist Gingerbread House You’ve Been Waiting For
It’s Yuletide and with it comes a profusion of decoration. Stockings with trimming, sleigh bells jingling, trees besmirched with ornaments and lights and boldly patterned gift wrap. For those of us with a fear of tchotchkes and with a minimalist aesthetic, it is the least merry season indeed. Nowhere is this tyranny more oppressive than in the world of gingerbread houses. Made popular in Germany in the 1800s as a marketing tie-in to the Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel -- the old lady emerges from a gingerbread house -- the architecture of gingerbread houses has not budged from the late 19th century. We still live in a world of half-timbered houses. Even the gingerbread houses of great ambition tilt towards Victorian homes. Modernism has not made it to the holiday pantry. It’s time to change this.
In 1945, Arts and Architecture magazine commissioned eight major modernist architects to design so-called “case study” houses. The aim was to bring modern materials and methods to bear on the creation of the massive post-war housing boom. The program, which started for eight months, lasted until 1966 and resulted in the construction of a little over twenty houses, a dozen of which are still standing. Among the best known of these is Pierre Koenig’s famous Case Study House #22, familiarly known as the Stahl House, after the family that lived there. You know the one, on a cliff in Los Angeles, all angles and pools and views. The house was captured beautifully by Julius Schulman in an image that pretty much spread California modernism throughout the world.
Anyway, it makes for a hell of a gingerbread house. It turns out the same methodology that Koenig used to build Case Study #22 -- simplicity, easy-to-use materials, structural integrity, function-as-form -- makes for an easy-to-assemble and cinch-to-bake structure for your Modernist mantle. So swap out the carols for Steve Reich, replace the fire with a Jean Prouvé lamp and get to baking.
The fireplace is made with gingerbread bricks, pretzel logs and licorice fire. The chair is an authentic Eames miniature and costs $795.
How to Build The House:
What you’ll need:
- Gingerbread roof and strips for pool.
- A piping bag fitted with a small round tip, filled with royal icing
- 12 2” long pieces of black licorice twist candy
- 8-10 additional licorice ropes, uncut
- 10 3.5"x 2" isomalt windows
- A bunch of small green and red star-shaped candies
- 30 pretzel rods cut to 2" length
- 1 container of blue dragees, for the pool
- Corn syrup
- Silver craft gilding
- Kitchen scissors
- A small clean paintbrush.
- A sharp paring knife.
Build the outline of the house with isomalt windows. Attach the panes with royal icing to your base. In between each pane, attach a 2” strand of licorice.
Build the pool, gluing to the base with royal icing. Fill the pool with royal icing and pour in dragees to fill the pool. Using a small paint brush, paint the pool surround with corn syrup. Working quickly, lay the silver gilding on the corn syrup, patting down as you move around the pool. Affix pretzels to the longest side of the L, using royal icing as the glue.
Lay strips of uncut licorice twists along the tops of the windows, cementing them with icing. Add another stripe of icing on top and gently place roof Add 2" licorice supports to the carport, using royal icing as cement. Add your festive 'lights'! Working one at a time so the icing doesn't dry out, pipe small points of royal icing around the edge of the roof and add the red and green stars until the entire roof edge is covered.