We do quite a bit of preparation for this extravaganza, usually starting a week ahead of time, but you can start even earlier if you freeze the dough. Bruce and I make the dough and use templates to create the pieces of the houses. I created templates using 3" x 5" file cards which turns out to be an ideal size. We can get 6 individual houses from a double batch of gingerbread dough, and the finished house size fits on a bread board with enough room to still have a yard to decorate.
Here's Bruce cutting dough to templates:
On decorating day, we set up work stations at the expanded table. Everybody works on a cookie sheet with a lip (to keep stray decorations from landing on the 1970's shag carpeting in our dining room. Oy vey.) We have a long shopping list of "construction candies" and I open everything and put it out in bowls for easy access. I make a huge batch of royal icing, and fill 6 icing bags which we stand up in heavy coffee mugs for easy access. Everyone also has a flat spreading spatula. Here's the "before" shot of the work table:
Here's an action shot of the "during"! Evan and Mary are consulting on Evan's liberal use of sprinkles. Caitlin is deep in thought (this is the day she got icing on her back...we still don't know how) and Bruce is in the throws of creating a groovy jalopy out of pretzles and life savers. Sarah is just off camera to the right. My work station is in the bottom middle of the photo.
Happy Frosting to all, and to all a good night.