Oh tessa, I am very sorry to hear about your problems. :(
When I was making them I usaully did it over a 6-8 day period. (See my photo and you will understand. I still had the cooking to do, eh!)
My primary and key processes ended up in the following order-
- Make all my templates out of parchment first
- Make multiple batchs of the ginger bread and then blend the different batches to ensure uniformity.
- Main walls and big pieces get made first and allowed to dry.
- Giant batch of Royal icing, with extra meringue powder
I used a 1" base of plywood for moving the beast when it was done, so that needs to be prepped. I would just smear it with Royal icing and use a ribbon around the edges.
While the Royal icing base is still wet, I would place the 4 walls and put the "beams" into the corners with a generous amount of icing. (For beams, see above) Then let it set overnight, at least.
Until the walls are stable, don't proceed. Only a really small house can be done in one sitting. (Yeah, I know, big help NOW!:o)
Actually, to make the walls a bit more sturdy, do some "stained glass windows". When doing the prep for your walls, cut out whatever shape window you want as the candy will melt to fill any shape of the space. Circles, Triangles, freeform, etc.
Break some pieces of hard candies and use them to fill the windows during the last 2-3 minutes of baking. Otherwise they will discolor and turn into caramel.
Hint- After the gingerbread has been in the oven for about 10 minutes, remove and trim the interior of the windows because the dough will spread a little.
You do want to have the pieces small so they will melt quickly. Try to design the color pattern though, because just putting in a handful of small pieces ends up looking like mud.
Only after the whole structure is dried and sound should you proceed to decorating.
When you make a Gingerbread house, think of it more like bridge construction or furniture making and not so much about a baked good or confection.
It is late here and i need some sleep. I will post more tomorrow...