Someone gave me a lovely bottle of rosé at the beginning of the year, and the bottle was so gorgeous that I saved it for months, waiting for the perfect project. So naturally, it became the centerpiece of this lovely fairy castle. I'm also using barbecue sauce bottles, pickle jars, and some different brands of almond butter jars and spice jars. Art supplies are everywhere! 

Use GooGone or another solvent to remove all the labels, and wash them all clean. Arrange and rearrange them until you're delighted with the layout. 

Build the Base

The base of your castle will house your LEDs and hide all the electronics. Mine is made from a piece of 1/8" acrylic attached to a box built from leftover wood siding. I won't go into all the woodworking details here, but will give an idea of how I put it all together.

Cut a piece of 1/8" (or thicker) acrylic or polycarbonate to match the dimensions of your bottle layout. Give yourself a little extra room on all sides. My castle is going to sit on a 7" deep windowsill, so that influenced the shape and size dimensions I chose.

Spray the acrylic with 1-2 coats of Mirror Effect spray paint. This will create a one-way mirror effect, letting light come up through the plastic but hiding all the wires and electronics beneath it. 

This is one of my favorite LED diffusion tricks. Mirror Effect FTW.

Build a box to hold your acrylic about 1-2 inches up from the table, to make room for your LEDs and electronics. I made a shallow dado cut on the inside of my wood trim and slid the acrylic in so it's supported on all sides, but it would work just as well to attach the acrylic to the top of the frame. Be sure it's very well supported -- the bottles will weigh a fair bit when you're done. I added some hot glue and wood glue along the underside seams to be sure my bottles had plenty of support.

Cut a hole for the power cord to come through. I ended up placing the speakers on the outside of my box for better volume, so if you want to do that, make a hole for those wires too. And if you think will want to change up your code and add different songs or tones later on, you could also make a port for the USB cable to make reprogramming easier.

Attach NeoPixels

We'll attach the NeoPixel strip to the underside of the mirrored acrylic so there's a ring of pixels underneath each bottle.

We're using side-light NeoPixels because we can bend them into these tight rings without damaging the LEDs. This is much easier, more flexible and more affordable than wiring 11 actual NeoPixel rings would be. Yay, side-light NeoPixels!

Create your light rings and hold them in place with zip ties. Don't tighten the zip ties too much - you don't want to damage the LED strip, so just make them tight enough to hold the rings in place.

Attach the rings to the underside of your acrylic with clear packing tape. This allows you to move and adjust them as needed until they're all exactly where you want them. Once they're perfect. slap on some more packing tape until they feel really secure.

If you're adding capactive touch, drill a small hole behind each NeoPixel ring for the capacitive touch wire to come through.

Decorate the Bottles

Start decorating your bottles. My first layer was iridescent cellophane gift wrap (from the craft store) wrapped around the bottle and heated with a heat gun to shrink it to fit. I used a couple different colors for variety.

I used hot glue to affix glass beads or glass shards, gems, pearls, and sea shells to the bottles. On a few, I designed vinyl "windows" on my Cricut vinyl cutter and stuck them on. I topped a few bottles with dried sea urchins I found at the craft store. I topped this with another layer made from air-dry clay to create the columns and pediments.

This is the fun part. Create the castle of your dreams.

My castle's design was influenced by the architecture of Antoni Gaudi, a Spanish architect who lived in the early 20th century.

Gaudi's work was heavily inspired by nature and nature's forms. His buildings have a minimum of straight lines or corners. Walking through them, you get the feeling that they just grew up out of the ground instead of being planned and built. Gaudi didn't draw plans for his buildings. He would work almost exclusively from models, letting gravity and natural forces inform the structure of his arches and hallways. His use of light and color inside his masterpiece, the church La Sagrada Familia, left me a quivering mess of emotion. I am in awe of his connection to nature, spirit, and form and in love with his whimsical designs.

Place your bottles onto the base as you work, to test how they're catching the light. 

If you're making the lights-only version of this project, you're finished! You can glue the bottles down to the base if you like, or keep them loose and rearrangeable if you desire.

To add the capacitive touch bottle-toppers and make this a musical instrument and interactive castle of wonder, read on.

This guide was first published on Jul 15, 2020. It was last updated on Jul 15, 2020.
This page (Build the Castle) was last updated on Oct 20, 2020.