I am looking for a way to box it up. Or even just a front plate. I need access to all the buttons, and it is going to be prominently display, so having it look nice would be great.
Packaging up a project is always the hardest part. I've done front panels using aluminum, plastic, or wood. Access to a laser cutter is handy, but you can do a nice job with a dremel tool and/or nibbler too.
Is brass a possibility?
These are just the right size for a 16x2 display. http://www.leevalley.com/US/Hardware/pa ... 44199&ap=1
Is there some way to extend the buttons to make them easier to push?
One solution for the buttons is to use panel-mount buttons and wire them to the button pads on the shield. Another way to do it is to glue pegs to the tops of the buttons so they extend above the surface. I like to use Sugru to make soft panel-buttons.