Sweet Kitchen’s winning entry for the Home Collective’s 2021 gingerbread house competition featured Santa stuck in a chimney. The entry garnered 722 online votes, and won a $500 donation for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. (COURTESY HOME COLLECTIVE)

By LISA ANNITTI
For Montclair Local

The Home Collective Team at Compass usually specializes in bigger houses. But for the second holiday season in a row, the real estate firm thought smaller … and tastier.

Real estate agents Karin Diana, Pierce Conway and Liz Arenberg asked businesses throughout the community as well as residents to take part in their annual gingerbread house competition — with the winning business securing a $500 prize for the charity of its choice, and the winning resident getting a Solo Stove Fire Pit. The contest was co-sponsored by Investors Bank.

The 2021 business winner — picked through an online vote and first announced in Thursday’s edition of Montclair Local and on MontclairLocal.news — was Sweet Kitchen, with 722 votes. Sweet Kitchen picked St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as its charity.

Its entry: “Santa Got Stuck,” with St. Nick’s legs sticking out of a chimney. (Don’t worry. We hear the big guy got out safely and finished his rounds on Christmas Eve.) 

Sweet Kitchen owner Bensu Vurgun said the aim was to make the entry traditionally festive, lighthearted and fun.

“We are ecstatic to win first place,” Vurgun said. “Knowing the competition would be tough, we devoted a lot of time and effort to creating our gingerbread house and it was well worth the effort.”

Runners-up were Nouvelle and One Savvy Design Consignment in second place with 535 votes (supporting Angels for Animals Rescue), Little Daisy Bake Shop in third place with 146 votes (supporting the Montclair Ambulance Unit) and Paper Plane Coffee Co. in fourth place with 136 votes (supporting Junior League of Montclair). Each earned a $50 donation for its chosen charity.

The Home Collective team picked the resident winner directly — The Kiarie family’s “Corona Del Mar” gingerbread house earned it the fire pit.

The first contest, in 2020, had been specifically for the team’s clients. Conway said the agents were going through a list of the clients, and wanted to show them some appreciation.

The second-place runner up for the Home Collective’s gingerbread contest was Nouvelle and One Savvy Design Consignment. (COURTESY HOME COLLECTIVE)

“We stumbled upon gingerbread houses and wanted to provide an activity during COVID,” Conway said.

He said the team loves “to help people create amazing memories in their homes, and I think everyone was desperate for a creative outlet this time last year. We knew the gingerbread house kits would help exactly with that.”

In 2020, the competition awarded three prize packages themed to three Montclair shopping areas — Montclair Center, Watchung Plaza and Upper Montclair Village — with gifts and gift certificates from each. The firm gave out 100 gingerbread house kits, and 25 people submitted entries. 

For the 2021 contest, local businesses were offered the opportunity to throw their hats into the ring, alongside the general public. With that expansion, Home Collective gave away 300 gingerbread house kits. By the end of the contest, 14 businesses and 55 residents had submitted entries. Other decorations beyond those provided in the kits could be used, as long as the items were edible.

“The engagement of the local business competition was to promote shopping local. And our brand’s mission is all about community collaboration and support and bringing people together,” Diana said. 

She said there was some “fierce competition” for 2021, and a “level of surprise.”

Conway echoed that sentiment “They really get into it. We get text messages from parents that they are taking over for the kids.”

The third-place runners-up for the Home Collective’s gingerbread contest was the Little Daisy Bake Shop. (COURTESY HOME COLLECTIVE)

Paper Plane owner John Echeverry had a simple answer when asked why he decided to have the coffee shop participate: “Why not?”

“It’s fun for a good cause. Win or lose, we will match the donation to the Junior League of Montclair. I feel like this is a bonding experience and I want to see what other gingerbread houses look like.”

Snyder said she entered The Little Daisy Bake Shop because the contest was a fun idea, and she used to host a gingerbread house decorating party for kids on her block.

“What a great way to get small businesses involved and show their creativity.  People have some serious gingerbread skills,” she said. “The best part is that it gives a spotlight to and benefits organizations who need our support.”

Snyder picked Montclair Ambulance Unit as Little Daisy’s charity of choice for several reasons, she said.

“Having ambulances in Montclair is a necessity, and it’s hard to believe it’s independent of the township. When my daughter was 2 years old, she got a toy cash register dime lodged in her throat. The MAU responded within minutes. It was emotional and scary and I can’t imagine this town without this response team.  We would be so happy if they received the prize money.” 

The fourth-place runner up for the Home Collective’s gingerbread contest was Paper Plane Coffee Co. (COURTESY HOME COLLECTIVE)

For the resident contest, members of the public could submit their own designs, whether they’d received kits from the Home Collective or not. Entrants could post photos of their completed work to social media and tag @TheHomeCollective.NJ on Instagram, or The Home Collective New Jersey Facebook page.

The business entries can still be viewed at thehomecollectivenj.com (as well as at many businesses’ locations), and most resident entries can be seen on the Home Collective’s Instagram page. 

Preparation for the contest usually starts in October. Diana said the agents are already talking about next year, and how they can make it better.

The Kiarie Family’s “Corona Del Mar” gingerbread house earned it a Solo Stove Fire Pit. (COURTESY HOME COLLECTIVE)
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