William & Mary

In time for the holidays: A sweet version of the Wren Building

  • A long-term commitment
    A long-term commitment  Kris Costa and her husband, John, began taking photos and envisioning how to construct the Wren Building in September. It took almost two months to complete.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Her latest challenge
    Her latest challenge  Although she has been making gingerbread creations of all sizes and shapes for 23 years, the Wren Building presented Kris Costa with her greatest challenge.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Intricate work
    Intricate work  Kris Costa used fondant to make the windows and the doors, icing for the window panes and wreaths. The Christmas trees to the side of the building are upside-down ice cream cones smothered in icing. Miniature candy canes make up the lamp posts; gum drops serve as lamp-post lights and bushes. Benches are made from fondant.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
Photo - of -

Kris Costa loves the holidays, gingerbread and large, historic buildings, perhaps in that order. 

That made William & Mary’s Sir Christopher Wren Building the ideal choice for the largest, most challenging holiday project this Williamsburg resident and substitute teacher had ever undertaken. 

The finished product is on display near the kitchen of the clubhouse at Governor’s Land at Two Rivers Country Club, where it will stay through the holiday season.

Five years ago, Costa moved to Governor’s Land with her husband, John, who retired after a three-decade career in the Air Force. By then, she already had experience making gingerbread houses for her friends to decorate, as well as the home of the three-star general in command of Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.

{{youtube:medium:center|PcZEIyC7mRg Making the Wren roof}}

In Virginia, she crafted a gingerbread replica of Bruton Parish then the Governor’s Palace. This year’s choices were the Capitol Building in Colonial Williamsburg or the Wren Building. 

“For some reason, I thought the Wren would be easier,” she said, laughing. “Silly me.” 

To make the Wren, Costa baked 18 batches of gingerbread, her most ever. She used fondant to make the windows and the doors, icing for the window panes and wreaths. The Christmas trees to the side of the building are upside-down ice cream cones smothered in icing. Miniature candy canes make up the lamp posts; gum drops serve as lamp-post lights and bushes. Benches are made from fondant.  

“My husband and I had been walking around trying to find historically significant buildings in the area, which is why we first went to Colonial Williamsburg,” she said. “We wanted places that people in the community would recognize.”Lamp posts by Costa

Costa made it clear that these are not solo projects. She and her husband took photos of the Wren Building in September and October. They turned those photos into drawings that she referenced throughout the process. Her husband used computer images to give her overhead shots, but also so that he could get all of the dimensions correct. He then provided her with something akin to a blueprint, dimensions included. 

“He’d tell me, ‘This piece is going to be 19 ½ inches by 6 ¾,’” she said. “I had to do four of those, so I drew it out on graph paper and used that as my template. I make all of my own gingerbread and cut it off to fit the dimensions. A couple of those pieces are cut in half and have different joints in them.” 

Costa decorated each piece of gingerbread on a flat surface. Once the icing dried, she set the pieces into place. For the Wren, her husband built a wooden backing underneath “because it has to stay up for the full Christmas season. With people touching it, if I didn’t have something underneath it would never make it.” 

In the past, she’s used licorice or cookies or Necco wafers for the roof of her creations. Not this year, not for the Wren Building. Costa employed “flow” icing — a watered down version of the royal icing that is normal for such projects — in a different color to look like the slate that sits atop the Wren.

When she’s not making gingerbread houses, Costa said she is thinking about how to make them better. 

“I cannot walk past a candy store without going in and looking for nice flat candies that will work on gingerbread houses,” she said. “It gets me in the mood or Christmas because I adore Christmas. I really just enjoy doing it. I love the creative process. I love having it at the club. Seeing the people come by and the kids looking at it and going, ‘Wow,’ it’s a great conversation starter. 

“Sometimes I even go up to people and introduce myself as ‘The Gingerbread Lady.’”