As many of you already know, I never set out to be a cake designer. Before I opened the DTC café, I did three semesters at university for communications and another three for landscape architecture. Neither of those fields were areas I was truly happy in, so I left. Some may say I threw that time spent in university away, but I would beg to differ.
In running my own business, I use elements of communications every day. I write all of the copy for our website, blog, socials and emails etc.
Architecture in the cake business, though, took a bit of time to figure out. After I mastered cake making fundamentals, I wanted so badly to develop my own style. Looking at other cakes for inspiration however, was very limiting. I realised I needed to look outside the cake world, and into other design fields, especially those that I am inspired by in everyday life.
My Pinterest boards were already filled with modern architecture, interior design, and abstract art. So I started looking at them through a cake lens. Suddenly, EVERYTHING was a cake. Graffiti on the walls of Melbourne’s iconic laneways, marble kitchen benchtops in Interior magazines, palette knife paint strokes in abstract art, The possibilities became endless, and my mission: to push the boundary between where one design field ends and another begins.
Needless to say, the subsequent years saw Don’t Tell Charles become a pioneer in the modern buttercream cake movement. My style became recognised as a balanced mix between architecture, interior and abstract art.
So today, let’s look at 4 ways to use elements of architecture to inspire your modern cake designs.
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Inspiration from Elements of Architecture
There are four basic elements of architecture: point, line, plane, and volume. When you’re learning architecture, you’ll learn how to combine these elements to create a more robust or aesthetically pleasing structure that’s still functional for its most basic intent. As an architect, your main goal is to make the most of the three dimensional space that’s allotted to you.
The most basic element of architecture out of the four elements is the point. It has neither depth, width, nor length but instead is used to indicate a single position in a space. This cake brings the concept of a point to life. It has a minimalist design with just a single tier of concrete buttercream cake. Clear lines and sharp angles create a clean architectural feel. A pink marble chocolate sphere marks its place at the top of the cake but it is off-centre. When a point is centred in a space, it’s stable. By moving a point off-centre, it creates tension and intrigue and vies for visual dominance.
Let’s talk about another element of architecture, the line. These two cakes illustrate different ways to incorporate lines into your designs. In architecture, a line is used to visually express direction or movement from a point. It can imply stability and balance when used vertically or horizontally. When used diagonally, lines can conceptualise rising or falling action.
Both of these cakes feature concrete buttercream in varying tones to create contrast and differentiation between the tiers. The cake on the left features gold hand-painted lines. On the top tier, the main lines move diagonally from top right to bottom left whereas on the bottom tier the lines move from top left to bottom right. This is a simple way to create movement in your cake design. Intersecting lines form dynamic geometric patterns.
The cake on the right uses lines in a different way. Lines can vary in degrees of thickness and width to suggest boldness or gracefulness. On this cake, three vertical chocolate lines of varying widths are attached to the top tier with a diagonal line that intersects them. This paired with the geometric shapes beside them create an eye-catching pattern. Furthermore, this cake was created for a construction company, so the lines here also borrow inspiration from construction cranes.
Inspiration from Stone and Other Building Material
Choice of building materials is another important aspect of architecture. The material is what we come in contact with when we interact with a structure. Choosing strange or foreign materials for certain aspects of building can create an entirely different atmosphere. You expect to come into contact with a cold metal handle on a door and see walls with wood panelling. But, imagine if the handle were wood and the walls metal. Different vibe, right?
This cake features marble buttercream in a cube form with crisp edges. Marble can come in a wide variety of patterns and colours. In this instance, the grey tones of the marble buttercream give off a stark, cold, formal feeling made even more apparent by the three bare branches affixed to it. The gold branches however, balance out the cold by injecting some much needed warmth. To achieve the golden finish, these real branches were cleaned, covered in chocolate and then dusted in edible gold lustre dust.
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With these signature DTC trio, we’re not only looking at building materials but also building form. Each cake is cylindrical to signify pillars of a building. Each cake is then finished in a different finish.
The black cake at the forefront was achieved by first covering the cake in dark chocolate ganache and then painting it with a thin layer of edible black paint.
The gold cake on the left was achieved using the same method, however instead of black paint we use edible gold paint.
Finally, the ‘main’ cake had a two-tone concrete buttercream finish topped with a black and gold chocolate bowl sail. All three cakes had an element of gold to connect them together.
Inspiration from other Elements of Design
Like baking and cake decorating, design is as much a science as it is an art form. There are several aspects that work together to create not just a functional space but also an aesthetically pleasing structure or arrangement. This goes both for architectural design and interior design. Fundamental elements of design can vary in importance from person to person but overall they are used to enhance certain features or even compensate for flaws to create a complete, satisfying look.
These two cakes are examples of how to use contrast to create visual interest while keeping to a mostly minimal design. Contrast, if used properly, can create striking, automatically eye-catching interest.
The cake on the left uses contrast at its most fundamental level by having two tiers on opposite sides of the spectrum. Both tiers are similar in that they’re rectangular and feature sharp corners and clean lines. However, by using light grey buttercream on the top and ganache painted a glossy black on the bottom, the tiers are different enough to create a high contrast but similar enough to work together in one harmonious design.
On the cake on the right, contrast is used in more than a couple of ways. We have the contrast in colour, silver against white. We also have contrast in texture. The bottom tier is a high sheen, glossy black but the silver tier is metallic with texture. Finally, the sharp edges of the two tiers also contrast with the soft, flowing look of the metallic silver chocolate sails affixed to the front of the cake.
Colour is another important element of design. It has the power to change the mood or energy of a design making it feel formal, welcoming, or even more imposing. Both of these cakes are made out of concrete buttercream. By using dramatic, metallic chocolate sails in complementing colours of gold, rose gold and copper, the energy of the cakes become celebratory and exciting.
In design, form refers to either the shape of the space itself or the shape of the things within the space. This applies to furniture, artwork, or architectural features like archways or windows. These shapes can either be geometric or natural but it’s important to find a balance between the two. Both of these cakes use colours as well as natural and geometric forms to create a fascinating design.
On the left is a two-tiered concrete buttercream cake with a copper drip falling off the edges of each tier. Marbled chocolate hexagons and small cubes are paired with full, flowing copper chocolate sails. The use of both strong geometric shapes and the graceful, soft movement of the sails is a wonderful balancing act on this intriguing design. The cake on the right is also a concrete buttercream cake with copper drip. On this cake, the large copper chocolate sail is grounded to the top of the cake with small, geometric chocolate cubes.
Texture is another element of design not only because of how different textures look, but also because of how they feel. This beautiful cake is inspired by Jasmine Rae. It’s a minimalist work of art in its simple concrete step design. The three tiers are stacked off-centre for an unusual but captivating look. Attention is brought to the organic texture of the concrete buttercream with edible gold paint. Its simple design is completed with a branch that was washed, dipped in chocolate, and coated in gold lustre dust as a small ode to nature.
Inspiration from Buildings
It’s not only the elements of architecture and design that can inspire your cake designs. The final structures themselves are great sources of inspiration. In fact, architecture has been feeding inspiration to artists and vice versa all throughout history.
This cake was inspired by an art deco house. It was commissioned to celebrate the owner’s 50th birthday as well as a new housewarming. The rounded edge was inspired by the shape of the building. The two round cakes were ganached with a timber finish and the gold chocolate shapes were inspired by a beautiful spiral staircase which was a main feature in the house.
Both of these cakes were inspired by art deco buildings and skyscrapers. Think the Chrysler Building or the Empire State Building. Art deco buildings have a sleek linear appearance and often have geometric decorations. Both of these cakes are three-tiered concrete buttercream structures with each tier perfectly centred on top of each other to create the characteristic art deco stepped appearance.
Rather than geometrical shapes, the cake on the left uses flourishes of chocolate sails splattered with silver paint for decoration, a break from the hard lines of the concrete cake. The cake on the right was created in celebration of a 21st birthday. Silver chocolate sails are paired with silver triangles and silver leafing for a stylish finish.
Although not necessarily a desired design element on buildings, graffiti holds its own as a popular art style. These cakes aim to replicate the wild splashes of colour that graffiti adds to buildings. The cake on the left is a square concrete cake with clean lines and sharp edges. Paint splatters in hot pink and purple add vibrant splashes of colour on the grey buttercream. It’s then topped with a colourful isomalt sail.
On the right is a two-tiered concrete buttercream cake. The bottom tier is entirely painted with shades of pink, blue, and purple watercolour with splatters of rose gold. Pink and blue pulled isomalt pieces sit where the tiers meet, and a gorgeous blue and pink isomalt bowl sail tops the cake.
Cake design inspiration can be found anywhere – not just from other cakes. I always encourage my students to look outside of the box when they’re trying to find unique designs for their cakes. Inspiration from architecture was where I found my niche in modern cake making. You never know where you’ll find yours!
If you’re interested in learning the basics of how we accomplished many of the designs shown here, take a look at our Buttercream Cake Mastery Course. In it you’ll learn all skills and knowledge necessary to build a strong foundation, maximise efficiency and ensure consistent, quality results every single time.