An aspiring architect demonstrated her talent using gingerbread as building blocks, with her confectionary creation awarded first-place honors Thursday in the first Gingerbread House Decorating Contest sponsored by the Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce. The awards program was held in the McManus Room of the Westport Public Library.

Amelia Tavarnesi, 15, of Westport, used a kit to build and decorate a gingerbread house. Then she baked her own gingerbread to construct a lighthouse. She added a dormer and chimney to the house and installed a battery-operated bulb as the lighthouse beacon. She used colorful Necco wafers for the roof tiles, upside down ice cream cones as Christmas trees, and gummy fish and a shark in the frosting "water." And she didn't stop there.

"I melted butterscotch candies to fit into the windows," Amelia said. It created an amber-colored glass affect.

All her effort paid off. During the time that the 27 entries in the gingerbread house contest were on display at downtown merchants, Amelia's accumulated the most donations of coins and bills, securing her the win. Amelia's entry earned $115.23.

Amelia said she worked on the house at least 30 hours over five days in late November, with help from her mother, Edesse Sloan. Her father, John, also lent a hand by making half-dozen trips to a grocery store and a CVS to buy candy and baking supplies.

The Dear family of Westport also spent hours on their detailed pink gingerbread palace, which featured M&Ms, candy hearts, Twizzlers and soft peppermint candy ropes that they sliced to use as tiles for a wide path leading to the front entrance of their gingerbread house.

"It was a lot of tedious work slicing those, and eating them," said Christina Dear, 13.

Her mother, Victoria, said the project was a great family activity. Leigha Dear, 11, added that it was "nice to do something creative for charity."

Although the Dears' pink gingerbread house did not win an award, it did win the admiration of viewers. "That was a great one, all the details, every inch was covered. It was very artistic," said Debby Coley of Westport.

Charles Hulina, 10, of Westport, said he liked it, "even though it's pink and stuff."

"It's my favorite color," said Samantha Henske, 5, who decorated a gingerbread house of her own with Sophia Lomnitz, 6, both of Westport.

The competition was also a family affair for cousins Philip Sullivan and Perrin Delorey, both 4-year-old Westport residents.

"We used Cinnamon Toast Crunch (cereal) for the roof," Philip said.

"I put the wreath on. It's made of sugar candy just like the snowman," Perrin said.

A check for $510.43 raised through the public voting for contest entries will be donated to a Marine Corps Toys for Tots program to purchase holiday gifts for underprivileged children in Bridgeport. Another $1,000, generated from contest entry fees, went to the Staples High School Tuition Grants program. Patty Cope, a member of the program's board, was on hand Thursday to accept the check.

Madeline Gray, 14, of Westport, was first runner-up in the conrst, and Sarah Gruen, a senior at Weston High School, was the second runner-up.

After the awards ceremony Samantha and Sophia began dismantling their house one candy at a time, starting by consuming the pink M&Ms off the top of the roof.

Lisa Parrelli Gray, the chamber's executive director and president, said the first-ever event attracted great participation by local businesses and families. "The idea was to connect the community to our businesses and the businesses to the community," she said. People learned about businesses they had never heard of, she added.

The contest will be held again next year, Parrelli Gray said, prompting Christina Dear to start thinking about what to enter in the next round of competition. "We have to make it more extravagant," she said.