Think Brothers Grimm. Think thought-provoking. Think outdoor canvas. Tucked away at the end of a Chapel Hill road is The Last Unicorn, an unexpected "unicorn forest" of antique oddities displayed across the five acres of Gaines Steer's property. He's opened shop. Retired and temporarily closed shop. And more recently announced a "Going out of Retirement Sale." His open air antique shop-come-art installation includes a collection of architectural salvage among iron gates and garden embellishments.
Gaines encourages visitors to meander into his woods rewarding the curious with unexpected details. It's an exploration that tugs on your sense of humor and child-like sense of splendor. Scattered about are iron-gated vignettes, oxidized ship bits, and pithy signs like "will barter for money" and "we sell ideas." Ornate cottages evoke a Hansel and Gretel vibe. A mini-amphitheatre peeks from beneath last season's leaves. Wooden bridges over swales connect stained glass cottages. And at the edge of the property, is a domed wooden structure designated for meditation. It's outfitted with Buddha ushered by an enormous glass Ying Yang symbol.
Gaines readily admits to his eccentricity, manifested in his front yard and services offered: memoir writing assistance, career and lifestyle coaching, Native American Medicine Wheel instruction. He even offers a map of his grounds on his web site.
You can spot him around town. He's the one driving the old brown Ford topped with a lounging unicorn permanently affixed to the roof.
(photographs taken off of Mount Carmel Church Road in Chapel Hill. The Last Unicorn is located at 536 Edwards Ridge Road in Chapel Hill.)