Vivid is as Vivid Does

Sunnyside Trading Company drenches the re-use concept in global colors

Article By Carolyn Comeau from CAROLINA HOME + GARDEN
Photos by Colby Rabon

Stuart Hough was born in Oklahoma but is a true citizen of the world, having lived everywhere from the Colorado Rockies to Paris before landing in Asheville. Here he presides over Sunnyside Trading Company, a vibrant 12,000-square-foot retail and warehouse space in the River Arts District.

Sunnyside is chock full of furniture, architectural and garden elements, soft goods, seating, lighting, textiles, and decorative arts from a bounty of Asian and Middle Eastern locales along the Old Silk Road. “We’re so happy to be here,” says Hough. “My daughter and I checked out L.A., Santa Fe, and Austin, among other places, and none were right for various reasons.”

After attending the High Point Market in NC’s Piedmont region — the world’s largest home-furnishings tradeshow — they stopped in the mountains “and never looked back,” says Hough. Though his adult children, Charlotte and Will, were initially involved in establishing Sunny-side, they’ve each pursued other paths, and Hough runs it independently now, though he notes, “The store allows me to blend my love for family, community, travel, and other cultures — I’m grateful.”

Like the Old Silk Road itself, Hough’s path to his vocation was winding. “I kicked around some after college in the 1970s,” he says. His sister was living in England and their mother followed to help her after she had a baby. The duo spent lots of time visiting the antique stores that peppered the English villages. “In 1978, they asked me to find my mother a little storefront to rent in Denver so she could move back and open an antique store in retirement,” he relates.

“That,” he adds, “is when the light switch inside me turned on, and my passion for history and antiques was ignited. I hate shopping for groceries and clothes, but drop me in a foreign country and I’ll happily go through warehouses until midnight. I love the thrill of the hunt, and my passion enabled me to live a dream. I dealt in Euro-pean decorative arts for 30 years, and moved my family to Paris in 1995.” There he had an antiques business in the Paris Flea Market and collaborated with American dealers to buy European antiques. A stint owning a wholesale antique business in Connecticut followed. “I owe a debt of gratitude to my then-business partner, Tony Ibrahim,” says Hough. “He gave me a crash course on Asian antiques during a whirlwind five-week tour along the Old Silk Road, which prepared me for Sunnyside.”

Fast forward to today, and it’s no exaggeration to say that a visit to Sunnyside Trading is like a design mini-trip around the world. The space is awash in sumptuous shapes, ingenious examples of creative reuse, and an abundance of over-the-top, vibrant color.

The textiles grab the eye first. They cover beds, mod chairs, poufs, and pillows, and feature everything from bold African mudcloth and South Asian ikat patterns to the symmetrical geometric handwork of Hmong artisans, indigo fabric from Mali, and intricately patterned vintage Indian kantha textiles.

“I admit to a textile addiction,” says Hough, “but at least our clients benefit from it.”

Sunnyside is also known for creatively reinterpreted pieces, such as an elegant door from India, decorative hard-ware intact, reinterpreted as a high-drama headboard; or an antique door surround converted into a bookcase. Because of the impact such items have on a space, Hough notes that only a single one is needed to define a room: “You can have very little else in your bedroom, for example, but a piece like this starts and finishes it.”

Sunnyside also offers one-of-a-kind lamps made from Chinese ceramic pieces, vintage Moroccan hanging lanterns, simply shaped Chinese altar tables, tribal masks, and vintage Central Asian rugs. It’s obvious that Hough also has a weakness for Chinese chests — most are rustic, but a few are shiny with lacquer. “I love the rusticity of our pieces and anything with quirks, patina,” he enthuses.

Hough accents responsible business practices, noting, “We’ve built great relationships with our artisans and manufacturers, and most of our furniture [is made of] reclaimed wood or antique.”

Sunnyside Trading adapted to the pandemic by selling on Etsy and launching a video service. Customers are required to wear masks, and the enormous space, Hough points out, “is conducive to social distancing.”

He says he values authenticity above all else, in his dealings with clients and artisans, and in what he chooses to sell. “Every culture may live differently, but we all want the same things: to enjoy our families and live a good life — and functional, beautiful pieces facilitate that all around the world. It’s the same in India as it is in Indiana.”