A few years ago, to celebrate Habitat for Humanity ReStore’s 10th Anniversary, we hosted a fundraiser catered by Café Cimino County Inn. To create an ambiance worthy of Chef Tim Urbanic’s culinary creations, we decorated the ReStore with handmade wine bottle chandeliers. One of our favorite ReStore volunteers, Geoff Bourne of St. Albans, used donated light fixtures and wine bottles to create gorgeous, functional and unique décor pieces that were then sold at a silent auction at the end of the event.
The holidays are the perfect time to create your very own wine bottle chandelier! You can unveil your creation, and set some serious mood lighting, at a festive gathering for family and friends. Or, you can use the holidays as a collection period, gathering bottles from parties, dinners and gifts. This year you will be doing a community service by reusing glass bottles that are currently unable to be recycled by the Kanawha County Solid Waste Authority.
It is important to note that this is a decorative, not electrical project. I’m in the business of making things pretty, not wrangling electrical currents. The idea is to find a light fixture that is UL approved (Underwriters Laboratory – the electrical industry seal of approval), and simply add a decorative façade. Modern light fixtures are constructed to be safe, and if you install them properly and respect the wattage recommendations for bulbs, you don’t need to worry about finding your light fixture engaged in risky behavior, even if it is surround by empty wine bottles!
Collecting the bottles is the fun part! In a hurry? Ask your friends and neighbors to donate to your project. Sentimental? Collect bottles from special occasions, gifts, or travels. Pompous? Ask your favorite sommelier to recommend a collection that will impress even your snootiest friends. Not a wine enthusiast? Use beer bottles, perfume bottles or antique glass vases. The ideas are endless; just make sure the items you choose are empty, made from glass and non-combustible.
West Virginia has a “wine doggy bag” law. This means you can purchase a nice bottle of wine at your favorite local restaurant, have a glass and take the remaining wine home after it’s recorked by restaurant staff. This makes my visits to Starlings Coffee & Provisions on Charleston’s East End even more enjoyable! I can enjoy a nice glass of wine paired with my favorite dinner and tote the bottle home for my wine bottle chandelier collection.
Here are the steps you’ll need to follow to create your own wine bottle chandelier.
- Your bottles must be clean and completely dry before using them. For a uniform look, use all the same bottles and remove the labels. For a more eclectic look, thoroughly rinse the bottles and leave the labels intact. I highly recommend allowing the bottles to air dry with an open top for several days. I was impatient during my first attempt and attached the bottles shortly after washing when they looked Condensation quickly formed in the bottom of the bottles.
- ReStore Tip: Give Your Bottles a Bath. There is a great deal of advice online about successfully removing labels from glass bottles. I’ve found the quickest and most effective technique is to run the bottle through the dishwasher. The water, soap and steam from the dishwasher make the label removable with one gentle pull. Take caution not to use the “heated dry” option on your dishwater. The high heat will actually bake the label glue onto the glass.
- Find a light fixture to use as your base. Perhaps you have an old light fixture in your basement patiently waiting for reincarnation. If not, it’s time to schedule a field trip! We have a great lighting and electrical department at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Look for a fixture that has symmetrical protruding “arms” at the top of the unit for the eyehooks to slide through.
- Wash the fixture with a liquid dish soap to remove grease and grime, and dry it completely. If you like the current color of your light fixture, proceed to creating the attachment mechanisms.
- Find an area of your garage or well-ventilated basement to hang the light fixture in anticipation of applying spray paint. Trying to paint a chandelier that is sitting on a table is an exercise in futility. Cover the bulb sockets with tape to protect from overspray, and don’t spray paint a fixture that is hooked to electricity! That is a recipe for a flaming disaster!
- If you want to emphasize the light fixture itself, paint it a bright color. If you prefer the fixture to blend into the background in order to highlight the wine bottles, spray paint it black. I used high-heat spray paint designed to adhere to metal. The matte black finish I chose created the soft palate I was trying to achieve.
- There are many different techniques for creating attachment mechanisms, but I’ve found eyehooks to be the easiest. Purchase 1-3/16” eyehooks (#210) at your local hardware store in the most appropriate color for your fixture. I stuck my eyehooks eye side up in a piece of cardboard and spray painted them black. Insert a SYNTHETIC wine bottle cork in each bottle and gently screw in the eyehook. The eyehook takes up extra space within the cork creating a very snug fit inside the bottle.
- ReStore Tip: Getting the Cork in the Bottle. Once a synthetic cork comes out, it does not want to go back in. I found the most effect way to get the little sucker back into its home is to shave the dry end with a sharp knife to create a taper that will slide into the opening of the bottle. I then made sure the bottle was on a strong flat surface and pushed the synthetic cork in with my hands. It is important to use synthetic corks because they are resistant to “cork taint” meaning that they won’t dry out and deteriorate. Visit the website CorkWatchto pre-emptively determine what kind of stopper is in your desired bottle of wine.
- Set your bottles aside while you prepare for the light fixture to be installed. If you or a loved one are capable of safely installing a light fixture, then get busy. If not, call for help: Mr. Handyman of Kanawha Valley is licensed and insured and offers reasonable rates for basic electrical services. I highly recommend asking your handyman to install a dimmer switch for your chandelier too.
- It is extremely important to note that your new chandelier is very heavy! Each empty bottle weighs approximately 2 lbs. Add 12 bottles to a 5 lbs. fixture and you’re created a chandelier that weighs almost 30 lbs.! Make sure to buy chain appropriate for the weight. Also ensure that your ceiling electrical box can support it (something else to ask the handyman).
- ReStore Tip: Learn Basic Electrical Skills. It’s all fun and games until someone electrocutes themselves. According to American Burn Association, in the United States, on average 400 people die from electrocution and 4,400 are injured each year because of electrical hazards. Learn the basic principles of residential electrical systems, including how to install light fixtures and ceiling fans, at Habitat for Humanity Basic Electrical Class. A master electrician leads this class as part of Habitat for Humanity’s Homeownership Education Program. Classes begin again in early 2015. Sign up for Habitat’s e-newsletter at hfhkp.org to learn about upcoming opportunities.
- Hook each wine bottle’s eyehooks over the protruding ends of your light fixture. Unless you are using identical bottles, prepare to spend a good amount of time arranging your bottles on the light fixture to achieve perfect balance.
- Choose your light bulbs carefully. In most cases, the bulbs will show, which means they need to be part of the overall aesthetic. The light fixture should have a label noting what wattage light bulb the fixture is approved to accept. Note the size of the bulb socket and make your way to your local hardware store. I like warm white dimmable LED chandelier bulbs.
Every time I look at my wine bottle chandelier I’m filled with happy memories. The Northern California adventures I had with my husband in 2012; the first happy hour I hosted for my fun Arlington Court neighbors; the crazy 2013 East End Main Street StreetWorks Art Auction. I hope that your wine bottle chandelier brings you enjoyment too. Email me pictures of your project and we’ll feature your photos on the ReStore Facebook page. Then celebrate your success with a nice bottle of vino!