Previously known as the talent behind the Somerset-based bespoke cake supplier, DayDreams UK, Kate Parsons has recently been working hard on a brand-new challenge.
The Sugar Lair, based in Westbury, Wiltshire is the UK’s newest dedicated Cake Design Academy – a dedicated space for both experienced cake decorators and sugar artists, and those aspiring to learn how to create beautiful confections, to come together to develop their talents and learn new skills.
In her luxury teaching studio, Kate plans to host workshops with some of the world’s leading artists, covering a range of both classic and new and emerging techniques and she already has some incredible talents lined up to teach in the next few months.
I was delighted to be able to join Kate for her official launch party last week and you’ll be pleased to know that The Sugar Lair launch will be the subject of the next video over on my YouTube channel (remember to look out for that on Thursday). While I was there though, I thought it was only right that I sit Kate down and find out just how The Sugar Lair came to be…
Hi Kate, thank you for taking the time to talk to us!
Hey Rob, thanks so much for being here!
Congratulations on your grand opening! I know it has taken an awful lot of hard work to bring The Sugar Lair to life, but first, can you take us right back to the beginning…? Tell us about your inspiration for the studio – where did the idea for The Sugar Lair originally come from?
Well, plans for The Sugar Lair only really started last summer, whilst I was working on the Peach Life project for Cake International.
It was an experience that I really enjoyed and which also gave me the confidence to push myself, having never taken on such a huge project before or even been to a Cake International show!
Having previously worked in hospitality, I wanted to create somewhere where I could bring both sides of my working life together and that’s how I began thinking about creating The Sugar Lair.
I wanted it to be somewhere different and somewhere new and exciting, showcasing different techniques and skills within sugarcraft, while at the same time giving beginners a place to learn the basics to get them started.
Can you talk us through your journey to bring The Sugar Lair to life? How did you go about finding the right venue?
It honestly took me a good few months of searching and looking at different venues, because I wanted to find the perfect space.
It needed to have a lot of space and natural light, along with the ability to be flexible and allow lots of different types of classes. I also wanted it to be large enough to accommodate a good number of students.
I also have a few other plans for the space, but you’ll have to wait and see to find out about those!
How did you end up settling on the Westbury Mall?
When I first saw this property online, I was instantly attracted to it. I had initially been searching for a venue closer to bath, but I was struck both by the size of the Westbury Mall venue and the history of the property. It used to be a working mill for over 100 years and it had retained so much character from its previous life.
I knew immediately that it could be a space that I could work with, but it was only once I had visited it in person that I totally fell in love with the space.
What did you need to do convert the space?
I think it would be easier to list what we didn’t have to do!
As the property had sat vacant for over 12 months, it had not only been completely disconnected from its water supply, it had also become home to a number of pigeons. Clearing them out was our first job!
We also had to remove the old floating office’s ceiling, which revealed some beautiful red brickwork and stunning floor to roof windows.
Something we didn’t bank on was needing to rewire the whole building, which was a huge job!
We ended up replacing all of the flooring and gutting the kitchen and bathroom, before starting again with both.
It was a huge amount of work, but it was all done by just my fiancé and myself!
I know that you have separated the space into different areas. Can you talk us through them all?
The main teaching space is open plan and extremely versatile, meaning that teaching stations can be moved freely to create different layouts.
We’ve also got some casual seating areas with sofas and hammock seats for kicking back after a class too.
I also wanted to create a little display area for some of the highlights from the Peach Life exhibit and I also plan to have an area to showcase our local bakers too.
Downstairs, we have our kitchen, which is fitted with our ovens and stainless steel work stations and next we will be adding an office space for me.
What have been the trickiest challenges along the way?
I think the hardest part of the entire project has been trying to do everything ourselves, while also managing to look after our five children.
Trying to balance the business side of things, with the roles of builder, project manager and mum certainly hasn’t been easy!
You’ve already managed to book in an incredible array of talent, from all over the world. How did you even begin to go about reaching out to them all?
I’m a firm believer in, ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get’ so I did just that.
There are so many incredible artists that I look up to and that I would like to see here in the UK. At the end of the day, they are just regular people trying to make a living out of something they love to do.
I do still have to pick myself off the floor sometimes though, especially after reading the replies of people, whom I consider to be cake royalty.
What can attendees expect from a class at The Sugar Lair?
They can expect to be looked after from the moment they book with us to after they leave a class.
They can also expect to have a lot of fun whilst learning, and hopefully make some new like-minded friends at the same time.
Who would classes at The Sugar Lair suit?
My ultimate aim is to have something that will suit everyone.
Although we’ve started by announcing a few of our more advanced classes, there will be options suitable for those looking to begin a their cake decorating journey, right through to advanced professionals.
Will you be teaching any classes yourself?
I will be. Not too many, but I will be teaching some of our children’s and young adults’ classes – starting this half term!
I’ll also teaching some beginners’ sugarpaste and buttercream classes, including achieving sharp edges and drip cakes.
Can you let us in on any secrets about which other tutors you have got your eye on?
Now that would be telling, wouldn’t it?!
What I can say is that I’m currently speaking to a few new artists, including an incredibly talented chocolatier and a wafer paper flower expert!
I’m always keen to hear who else people would like to see here though, so do let me know!
How can my readers find out more about classes at The Sugar Lair?
You can keep up to date with new class announcements on our Facebook and Instagram pages.
I am also in the final stages of setting up the new Sugar Lair website, so I will let you know as soon as we are live.
Tell us a bit more about you. When did your love of cake artistry and sugarcraft begin and who inspires you now?
I’ve always had an interest in cakes. When I was little, my auntie used to make beautiful cakes for my birthday every year, covering themes from Care Bears through to Snoopy. She really kickstarted my love of cake decorating.
I used to spend hours looking through Debbie Brown’s books and the projects in those were some of the first cakes I made.
Besides opening The Sugar Lair of course, what has been the most challenging project you have taken on, so far?
Without a doubt, working on the Peach Life project for Cake International was one of the biggest challenges of my life so far. Helping to coordinate over twenty artists in different areas of the UK and abroad, most of whom I had never met, and work together to create such a huge feature was hugely stressful.
It was also extremely daunting as I had no idea what to expect from Cake International having never been before. It ended up being one of the greatest experiences of my life so far!
What are your goals for 2019? What would you like to achieve during the next twelve months?
I have some big plans for the next twelve months, and not just for The Sugar Lair. I actually got engaged over Christmas, so we’re planning a wedding for early in 2020!
At the Sugar Lair, I’m going to be trying out some different ideas. I want to develop some party packages alongside some other local businesses and I’m really excited about those!
Do you still plan to continue making cakes?
At the moment, I’m not taking any celebration cake orders, although I will continue to bake for my family and friends! I do have some weddings and corporate orders that I will be creating cakes for this year.
What would you say to anyone considering getting into cake artistry?
One thing I would say is that a lot of people are under the impression that making cakes is easy and this simply isn’t true.
Baking a cake might be easy and developing a much-loved hobby might also be easy, but actually turning that into a viable business certainly isn’t.
It can be a really tough industry to break your way into, but it is also extremely rewarding. It’s a world that is constantly changing and evolving, which makes every project so exciting.
finally, what is your top cake decorating tip for the readers of Mr Baker’s Blog?
Sharp edges seem to be a big problem for many cake artists – I know they certainly were for me for a long time.
My biggest tip to help people achieve them is to use the upside down method. Whether you are using buttercream or ganache, I always finish my cakes upside down. It is truly terrifying the first time you flip a cake over, but I honestly can’t say enough how fantastic this technique has been and what a difference it has made to the finish of my cakes. Give it a go!
Thank you so much for taking some time out of your party to talk to us, Kate. Congratulations on the launch and I wish you the very best of luck for 2019!
Don’t forget that the Sugar Lair launch party will be the subject of this week’s video over on the Mr Baker’s Blog YouTube channel. I upload a new video every Thursday, so be sure to swing by and hit that subscribe button to be the first to know when this week’s video goes up. You can find my channel by hitting this link.
The Sugar Lair is based at 9-10 Westbury Mall, Edward Street, Westbury, Wiltshire. To check out the latest classes and book your place, you can contact Kate Parsons via email, by calling 07561 839 550 or by getting in touch through social media.
The Sugar Lair website will be up soon – find it at this link, once it is online.