Young Architects Create the Sweetest Eichlers

Charlotte Kamman employs her expertise born of last year's event to create an Eichler home from crackers and frosting, with the support and advice of Sam Miller. Photos by Dave Weinstein

At age 13, Charlotte Kamman has already won plaudits as Upper Lucas Valley’s ‘master builder’ – of Eichler-style gingerbread houses.

The trick, she explained at a recent gathering of both experienced and neophyte gingerbread architect-builders, is no trick at all really.

“The trick is to do it over time,” she says. “It takes a lot of time and patience.” Charlotte learned the ropes at last year’s party.

Charlotte was speaking during the second annual and rather modestly titled Lucas Valley Homeowners Association’s Gingerbread House Decorating Party. Upper Lucas Valley is one of Eichler's loveliest tracts, surrounded by hills in Marin County.

Close to 50 kids – it was hard to count because there was so much action – got together not just to decorate houses, but to design and build them.

Brayden Adelmann took a few liberties with his Eichler reproduction.

And guess what? Most of the gingerbread houses looked like Eichlers.

“It’s up to you,” said 11-year-old Brayden Adelmann. “You can make it like an Eichler, but you can kind of go where you want with it.”

Brayden was clearly going where he wanted with it, sculpting an Eichler-like house all right but with a difference. “I’m trying to make a little clock up here,” he said, indicating a spot atop the home’s steep gable.

Have you been eating much of your handiwork, Brayden, he was asked.

“No, not yet.”

The event was put on by the association’s social committee and held in the community center, which is also an Eichler creation. The idea came from Beth Miller, who saw an advertisement for a modern gingerbread-making kit – that sold for $100.

Beth Miller spent much of the event churning out mortar for Eichler houses.

She devised her own instead, opting to use Graham crackers rather than traditional gingerbread for its structural qualities, which she decided would fit the rectangular nature of an Eichler home.

“It’s definitely [mid-century modern] themed," Miller said, “but through the eyes of elementary aged kids. We use Graham crackers instead of gingerbread, which happen to work really well for Eichlers, particularly the 'Double As' (spoken as a 'Double A' homeowner).”

Miller’s structural system works well, said Gianna Tar, a burgeoning structural engineer at the slight age of seven.

“One of the biggest things is, you need to put down a floor to support the walls,” Gianna explained. “When I tried it without the floor, it collapsed. It didn’t work. And you put on a lot of frosting.”

Gianna Tar developed a sophisticated system for ensuring structural integrity.

The frosting, you see, acts as mortar. Who needs posts and beams?

Although all, or probably all, the kids in attendance live in the neighborhood’s well-kept Eichlers, not all made duplicates of their own homes. While eight-year-old Jack McConnell’s house was clearly an Eichler, he said he was just making up the design.

“It’s fun because you can decorate and you can design a house. You can build whatever you want out of crackers and frosting,” he said.

Even those who try to recreate their own houses may have problems, as Nicholas Butler, 6, and his mom, Julia, discovered. They had trouble reproducing their home’s steep roofline, so they lowered the pitch of their cracker creation. “It’s more slanted,” Nicholas said of the roofline, “so [the crackers] were tipping."

Liam Shepard proudly shows off his creation, with decorative effects architect Claude Oakland never dreamed of.

The gingerbread party is just one of many social events put on by the association’s social committee throughout the year. There are the longtime traditions, like the Easter Egg Hunt, Halloween Party, and Tree Lighting. There are events for adults, like wine tasting and a cocktail party. Now the gingerbread house party joins the roster of annual events.

“It’s just to bring the community together," says Jenni Hamilton, a member of the social committee who was helping oversee the party. “It’s an opportunity for young and old to meet each other.”

As the early evening event neared its end, and as the finished creations – some of them – went on display to win admiration, things got a bit loose, as often happens as parties come to an end.

Watch out or this could happen to your gingerbread Eichler house too.

Gingerbread houses began taking on aspects that ranged from the grandiose to monstrous, rising high into the sky or collapsing into heaps.

 “Ours was a three-story house,” Kate Hamilton said of one such creation she’d been working on with friends, “but then there was an earthquake.”

Young designer-builders kept the energy flowing, with parents offering encouragement.

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