“You can’t miss it. I have a zebra door and peace-sign driveway,” says Elaine Felag as if she’s describing the most normal thing in the world. It’s no secret she loves color, however. As the owner of Feminine Fancies in Barrington, a women’s clothing boutique featuring designers Nicole Miller, Shoshanna, Trina Turk, Milly, Alice & Trixie and more, Elaine’s penchant for vibrant and whimsical design is unmistakable. Longtime customers even ask her for color consultations, as her ability to pair hues and patterns together for an unexpected but eye-catching look is well-known.
She abides by the same philosophy in her home but nowhere more so than in her garden. To be fair, the word “garden” is an understatement. If you enter on the side of the peace-sign drive- way, covered in 50 or so darling designs, you tuck under an arbor punctuated by two bedecked mannequin heads atop the pillars. Though they somehow blend in seamlessly with the greens-covered arch, the heads clearly indicate you’re about to encountersomething you never have before. “Nobody in Rhode Island has a garden like this,” says the petite blonde, who admits to spending up to 11 hours in the garden on a rare day off from work. “It’s like a Hollywood set.”
Underneath the arbor begins the yellow brick road, a buttery-hued brick path Elaine’s husband Walter installed to complement the garden’s Wizard of Oz theme, naturally. Punctuated by life-size characters from the film including Dorothy, The Scare- crow and the Tin-Man (the Cowardly Lion succumbed to the elements, sadly) each piece was hand-carved by “environmental chainsaw artist” Michael Higgins in 1999 from wood that was destined for the chipper. The Wicked Witch of the West, nestled in a cacophony of flowers and vegetation, rides a vintage bicycle, ready to catch Dorothy and her “little dog too!” Elaine created the witch after the wooden characters made their debut. “I always liked the Wizard of Oz. I mean, I’m not a huge fan, but I loved [Michael’s] stuff; mermaids and all different things,” she explains.
Though dead-ringers for the legendary characters, the sculptures surprisingly blend in with the gardens, replete with decades-old trees, mature hydrangeas, clematis climbing up tree trunks as far as the eye can see and flora and fauna in every corner. “It’s funky fun,” describes Elaine. “I have things hanging out of my trees – Slinkies, stars. I spray paint my trees and my bushes with plant-safe spray paint. On the lawn are stenciled stars with glitter. I’m not your traditional gardener.”
Though it sounds, quite frankly, positively insane, there’s an exquisite method to the madness. Meticulously kept and stunningly striking, the only hindrance to Elaine’s garden is you can’t pick a favorite part. One second you’re staring at a tree adorned with glittery tiaras and the next you spot a weathered car door tucked deep into the foliage with winding vines growing over it. Flagstones clustered under a second entrance arbor are painted every shade of the rainbow while a pair of Adirondack chairs defiestradition with alternating shades of blazing orange and cool purple. “Everything is so funky,” says Elaine with a wide smile. “People go, ‘How do you find the time?’ because I work six or seven days a week.” She waters, primps and prunes either early in the morning, after her work day, or on her one day off. “I’m out all day,” she says. “I wear a lot of sunscreen, a lot bug spray.”
The couple’s sons, Jake and Zeke, might recognize their digs are unconventional, but they appreciate their beautiful surroundings. “It’s not tacky,” says Zeke. But you don’t get to be 21 without doing a little heavy lifting in a space this impressive. “They use me for my strength,” he laughs.
Elaine had a neighbor when she was a little girl who she credits with influencing her passion for gardening. “[She] was a funky lady. She used to say, ‘Dig a hole, pour water, and things will grow,’” Elaine tells. “I always loved digging in dirt. I hate cooking, but I can dig a mean ditch.” Giving your garden your best shot is a theory Elaine embraced when she and Walter bought the charming home practically straddling the Bristol-Warren border 32 years ago. There was no garden to speak of, so year by year, the couple chipped away a little at a time, adding flower beds, plants, trees and more, plus an expansive deck and patio to take it all in. “I always say, ‘I’m the labor,’” laughs Walter. “My husband helps by digging big holes,” Elaine chimes in. “He says, ‘You’re crazy,’ but like my store shows, I am not a white wall girl – I have a zebra door. My fence is purple and green. I can see a blank space and know what I want it to do.”
As one might expect, a space so unique turns heads. “Let me tell you, my neighbors love my yard!” says Elaine. “I let people tour it, walk through it and take their time. Cars slow down and take pictures, kids walk through and take pictures, and some people have used it as a Christmas card.” One couple even found the lush surrounding romantic and tied the knot there.
While the home’s interior is much more refined than surroundings, rich colors, custom wall treatments and a few playful home accessories meld to create a polished but unpretentious vibe. “When I was doing it, a friend of mine is an interior decorator, and I told her I wanted it to be ‘New York penthouse style but with SoHo flair.’” Built on spec, the home hasn’t need many upgrades through the years, but the Felags did have the kitchen completely remodeled. Granite countertops, wood cabinetry and a spacious island offer a thoroughly modern aesthetic, while a chic, subtle metallic wallpaper in gunmetal gray keeps it chic.
It’s an elegant aesthetic, but the Felags’ sense of humor resonates with beautifully decorated year-round Christmas trees and in the corner of the living room, glittery ruby red slippers. Says Elaine, “All I do is click my heels and there’s no place like home.”