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Mid-Century Online

Growing up, Killian McNulty accumulated a vast knowledge in the field of fine furniture and antiques almost by accident, as he accompanied his father to various antiques shops, fairs and auctions.

Realising he had inherited his father's passion for great and classic furniture and accessories, as well as an in-depth expertise. Killian established an antiques and furniture business.

Digger talked to Killian about his business and love of these classic pieces of design.




Digger: Hello Killian. Can you please tell us about your background and how the business has developed into what it is today?

Killian: As my father is a collector of antiques and a big time hoarder, he had amassed a massive collection of furniture and period pieces, which accidentally became a prop hire business. I was drafted in at twenty-one to run that business and I've been at it ever since.

Digger: There's quite a few companies doing film and TV filming over there, aren't there?

Killian: There's a vibrant film industry, although the government tries to kill it off every five years or so. However, it stumbles along in one form or another. Prop hire was my introduction to the whole furniture side of things. As a child, I was always around antiques, antique shops and markets.

Digger: And always interested?

Killian: Yes, my dad was always trying to teach me. It was never an intention of mine at any point, I kind of drifted into it. It was only about five or six years into it that my passion for it developed. Although I was good at it from the get go, I actually started to really enjoy it when I was about twenty-six or twenty-seven.

Digger: Is there the equivalent of The Antiques Roadshow over there on RTE?

Killian: We get all the BBC shows here, including the numerous rubbish ones on daytime TV, in which they buy something for £50 and sell it for £25. There are no antiques-focused programmes here that have amounted to much, most maybe lasting a couple of seasons. I don't think that format works at all, regardless of the personalities involved. A credible format would show somebody like me and other genuine dealers, who have shops in which you are knowledgably buying something at auction, to sell on to a private buyer, not at auction to sell at a market. The latter method is like buying at the second last rung of the ladder and selling at the last rung of the ladder.

Digger: Yes, and getting a fair profit as a result. I don't suppose that would make such visual TV for them, because people wouldn't be driving around in fancy cars and visiting different auctions and shops.

Killian: Those programmes are not for the likes of me.

Digger: No but they do help keep antiques in people's consciousness though.

Killian: In that way, the UK is very different to Ireland. In my opinion, Ireland does not share the UK’s love of antiquing, but over the last few years, there has certainly been a change in attitude. Back when I started, it’s possible we were not as appreciative of what we had on our doorstep.

Digger: And without getting too political, Killian, the Brits probably took most of the decent stuff and brought it over here?

Killian: They certainly did, and it worked its way into the UK antiques trade. In fairness, as much as humanly possible was brought back in the nineties. Prices were horrendous, but people who had made money during the ‘boom’ had a positive attitude toward the import of Irish furniture. Christie’s ran an Irish furniture sale a couple of times a year, as did Sotheby’s, and the Irish buyers were keen. There's certainly an appreciation for Irish material at the top end of things, there just isn't a broad level of interest.

Digger: I can remember staying at my Nan's in Kerry for a month each year during the school summer holidays in the sixties and seventies - the roads were non-existent, people often lived in tin-roofed houses and went around on donkey and traps. And then, almost overnight, Ireland had modern N roads and everyone was driving around in Mercedes and BMWs.

Killian: Absolutely. We're paying for it now. It was totally mismanaged, but it is what it is. There's nothing we can do about it now. We were sold a pup.

Digger: Tell us about your range and about your stock Killian.

Killian: I don't have a set plan. I tend to buy what I like, pieces that I believe are well-designed, well-made, good-looking and will make an enormous difference to where they're put, eventually. So, I look at what the estimates are. Is it good value for money? Can I bring it over here at a certain price, sell it and make money? One has to look at something and get a feeling - the way that I look at things is not that they're priceless, but that a premium can be set on them because they're very different, very nice-looking and made in a particular way. You can come to a price that you think you can operate within. In a split-second, I come to a decision about that. Am I drawn to the piece and am I prepared to fight for it and if so, how far will I go?

Digger: And you have that instinct and experience to draw on. So most times you're right, are you?

Killian: I believe so. Over the course of hundreds of pieces, I've made very few mistakes. I made most of my mistakes early on, but most were made with the prop company and mistakes are easily remedied in that arena. If something looks right, it can be nailed together, or stapled together - as long as it stands for the shot, then it's fine. Yet, if you put something into somebody's house that is often already filled with high quality items, it has to be of an exceptional standard.

Digger: There are obviously enough clients understanding your vision and buying into your philosophy as it were?

Killian: Yes, I think that's what it is and I get very, very positive feedback from people. Every now and again, even people who've got no interest in buying send me well-meaning emails or leave an encouraging comment on Facebook. Recognition like that keeps you pointed in the right direction.

Digger: It's nice to get paid but it's also nice to get praise. It goes a long way when someone gives you a good piece of feedback, doesn't it?

Killian: Yes, absolutely. I would consider myself an extremely modest  person and I wouldn't, in any way, talk myself up about anything I do. I feel I have natural instincts for what I'm doing and from the time I was a child, I was handling Georgian furniture and absorbing information without really knowing it. I walked into an antiques shop one time as a young guy of eighteen or nineteen, and an antique dealer pulled out an item and said to me, "I bet you don't know what that is." I replied, "It's a such-and-such." He said, "Okay, and what's this?" Again, I replied, "That's a so-and-so." Then, he went to his main attraction piece and I knew what that was, as well. He was absolutely shocked.

Digger: Brilliant.

Killian: It was, but half of the things he pulled out, my father actually owned multiples of each, because he really is a complete hoarder.


Digger: Why didn't this guy then offer you a job?

Killian: I was there on behalf of my dad. He knew who I was and I was there to do something for my father. He would have known me since I was a child. At the same time, he didn't really know what was going on in my head.

Digger: That would make a good TV or film moment, wouldn't it?

Killian: Definitely. I remember another time. I was in an antiques shop with my dad. Again, a teenager at the time. My dad picked up what's known as a 'cruisy light', a little oil burning lamp that looks kind of like the end of a set of scales. He turned around to the owner and said, "What's this?" I looked at him and said, "A cruisy lamp." My father said to the man, "What is it?" and the man said, "It's the end to a set of scales. It's a tenner." My dad said, "Grand, I'll have that." As we walked out of the shop, he said to me, "Killian, NEVER tell them anything." (Digger laughs) I learned early on to ask them and see what they think it is and if they've made a mistake and haven't done their homework... Dad always said to me, "Knowledge is the key." He always had a library that would be the envy of quite a lot of dealers and I would be amassing a library of stuff on my end about the vintage furniture side of things.

Digger: And the library in your head as well.

Killian: Absolutely.

Digger: That experience and knowledge and instinct is your biggest resource, apart from your customers, of course.

Killian: You beat them on knowledge. That's where you win. At an auction, you beat them on knowledge.

Digger: Why is vintage and nostalgia generally so popular with just about everyone now Killian?

Killian: I don't really know exactly and I haven't over-pondered it. All I can say is that on a personal level, I'm not drawn to any new items, in particular, when it comes to furnishing a house. They don't hold any interest for me. With new items, at that point when I’m looking at its price, I already know that I can get something of much higher quality, a much more interesting looking piece, from the vintage side of furniture selling. So, I think it's just much better value for money, in terms of quality. In a sense, I just don't get the same emotional reaction whatsoever to new things, as I do to vintage furniture and antiques.

Digger: It's a bit like what I say to people in the vintage clothing business. Vintage clothing is affordable, it's usually pretty much unique, it's very well made and it's environmentally-friendly. Why would somebody buy new?

Killian: Exactly. My father said to me when I was a kid that the only item in your house that you should lose money on is your bed. Everything else could be, and should be, in some shape or form, something you buy that retains a value that you can then trade on and trade up, at some stage in the future, if you decide to do that. In fairness, my wife and I do have certain pieces in the house that either she has designed and made, along with a few little contemporary bits and pieces. However, all the nicer pieces come through my site, mid-centuryonline.

Digger: I can see you having a Georgian house. Would that be true?

Killian: We did have. We had a three-storey Georgian town house with Regency furniture, Georgian, Victorian and some vintage stuff, and it really looked amazing, but it wasn’t in the greatest part of the city. When our children reached school-going age, we then moved into a very typical, 1930s terraced house out in the suburbs of Dublin. 

Digger: My sister first moved to Dublin before settling in Cork and someone stole a grocery delivery from her doorstep. She mentioned it to her new neighbours and within 24 hours the items were all returned intact and they told her the culprit had been 'dealt with!'

Killian: Yes, if you'd stolen milk off a doorstep you'd probably be treated harsher than running up a 15 billion debt with the bank. (Digger laughs)

Digger: Who are your 'typical' customers?

Killian: Based on the people I've met and whose houses I've visited, it's hard to pin down a ‘type’. Generally, my customers are affluent couples in their mid-thirties right through to their seventies. Sometimes even older. Yet, it can depend - people in their sixties and seventies tend to chase very specific types of things, maybe something that they held an interest in when they were younger. Quite often it can be quite a high-end piece, like a coffee table or an expensive pair of chairs. With people starting out, furnishing their homes, they want quite specific pieces. They will be quite a bit younger and they might be looking at things from the point of view of the material. I had a woman whose house I went to and the most important thing to her was that it was made of brass or had brass in it. They approach me because I advertise through various selling platforms, various publications and I have my website set-up well for SEO and a broad range of keywords to draw people into the site.

Digger: And you've got your reputation and I suppose referrals from happy customers as well?


Killian: That's really coming together this year. My first year was spent trying to figure out what level the furniture needed to be at to be sold, how to photograph it, how to describe it. There was a lot of stumbling around in the dark in year one. Year two, I refined things a bit more, things improved and I sold a good amount of items. I re-designed the website last March/April and then re-launched it in May. It started to go very well for me then, actually. Previous customers came back saying, "By the way, I now need x, y and z." So, it's all building up. In the last year, we've taken big strides towards knowing how it’s all done. It's a very different game from what we do with the props. That is a hire business. Essentially, I could do that in my sleep and I could hire sand to the Arabs. There’s no emotional attachment there, but when you're selling it to a person, and especially when you're at my point in selling it, I want the person to love it and I don't want them to be disappointed, especially when selling online. When I eventually get the piece(s) into their house, they're really excited and you get an amazing email from them a week or two later telling you, "Thank you very much, I really love it and I'll be back in touch." Still, every time I turn up at a customer’s house, I get stage fright and I'm not certain how it will go.

Digger: And 99.9% of the time it does go well I'm sure Killian?

Killian: I've only ever taken one thing back and that was because the person clearly didn't understand the concept that brass was a gold colour. They bought something that had brass in it and they returned it, because they didn't realise it would be gold. Unbelievable. There's no explanation required and I take things back because there's a two week cooling-off period. It’s no questions asked, regarding returns.

Digger: People make mistakes.

Killian: They do. C'est la vie. I could understand something being the wrong size and so on, but couldn't really understand someone not realising that brass was gold-coloured. That's fairly obvious.

Digger: You're doing very well. There's all this doom and gloom, but you're running a business that's going from strength to strength. Imagine how it would be doing if the Celtic Tiger climate was back?

Killian: Yes. God, I wish I'd seen what it was like back then. The past year has been great for us, yet all I hear on the news is that we're going  through another recession, the Euro is gone, blah blah blah. You’d almost think people are just going to put their cheque books away and batten down the hatches. In fairness, some of the people I've met over the course of my dealings, based on what I can see of their circumstances and where they live, I can only imagine that what they spend with me is a drop in the ocean. I went to France and walked around the flea markets in Paris and prices were just gob-smackingly high and I was thinking, "My God, how do they get away with that?" There was a set of chairs there which I had sold for €3,000 and they had an €8,500 price tag on them. I got back and was thinking about it when I saw a website displaying Parisian property, and it was going for 5 million, 10 million, 15 million, 20 million… I just thought, "Loose change." €8,500 is obviously nothing in the grand scheme of things, if you've just shelled out 20 million.

Digger: They could go to your website and get them shipped over a whole lot cheaper but it probably wouldn't occur to them.

Killian: Yes, different people work on different levels. Some will do anything to save a few quid and some will do anything to save bother or inconvenience. I do my best to try and create a good relationship with clients and cover all bases for them. I have had several examples where people wanted very specific delivery or collection criteria and I have gone out of my way to accommodate, more so than most would. The clients really appreciate flexibility and I think I will get more business from them, as a result. 




Digger: It is a challenge selling to people remotely and you have to cover all the angles and try and anticipate what might crop up, don't you? What are the best aspects of what you're doing at Mid-Century Killian?

Killian: Top of the list has to be the ability to buy things - buying things that you've always wanted to see and being able to see. If I ever take a stand at a show, people say, "Can I sit in it?" or can they do such-and-such with the various items on sale. I always say, "Absolutely, you have to, you should do." If you've never sat in an Eames lounger, which many people wish to own, the first opportunity you have to do so, try and do it.

Digger: It's funny that we show a reverence like that and are very hesitant to sit on things or try them out.

Killian: You're not going to spend €5,000 on a chair that you've never sat in and that you don't know for certain is going to suit you. If you see one then you need to put your bum in it. There is stuff out there, some of which sells for quite high prices, that could really put you in hospital, if bought... Some early stuff from the 1920s and 1930s, that is highly-prized and can sell for many tens, if not hundreds of thousands, could cripple you, as sometimes they’re not the most practical pieces of furniture. It doesn't take away from their beauty. I'm a firm believer in trying, touching, sitting, feeling, getting to know the actual items. From my point of view, the best aspect is that I get to do that with things. I bought a pair of cabinets recently and the idea behind buying them was that I always knew they would be good quality and always felt that they would be beautiful. They arrived and they were just way better than anything I ever could have imagined. Now, I know that every time I see those, I can buy them and sell them, if they come in at the right price.

Digger: It's great.

Killian: It is.

Digger: I suppose the other thing must be dealing with the public and it must give you a warm feeling inside when you do see that you've done the right thing and get that feedback.

Killian: Most people who do contact me, about 99% of them, have been fantastic to talk to, very receptive, easy going, clever and interesting.  It's at the shows that you sometimes can meet people whose agenda is to upset you, unfortunately! They're not interested in what you’re selling, but they come up to you feeling the need to comment in a negative manner. If you meet 200 people on a day, there's going to be two or three that just want to upset you by saying something. I had a woman who walked onto my stand one time and she had her hands by her side and kicked a piece of furniture and said to me, "Is this that Celtic Tiger crap?" She meant ‘overpriced rubbish’.

Digger: Some people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Killian: Exactly. I've had that argument with people a few times. You don't have to convince the people who like and really understand what you're doing. Generally, it’s when you meet people out and about, you only get chilly comments from people who were never going to be a customer of yours in the first place. Throughout this process, I do have an emotional attachment to what I'm doing - some dealers will only talk about the price and margins and what they can make on an item or sell it for. "I can sell hundreds of those," they say. That doesn't interest me in the slightest. I plough my own furrow and do what I enjoy and what I am passionate about.

Digger: Good for you Killian. Long may your success and enjoyment continue.





My name is Killian and I own and operate I am the son of an antiques collector who instilled in me a passion for design and in particular the proportions and balance of good furniture. I am passionate about 20th century furniture and I stock only quality Art Deco and Mid-century items that I feel are well designed and well made, pieces that will stand the test of time and remain saleable and collectible forever.

I buy only pieces that I feel will make a huge difference to the room they are placed in, pieces that will make you happy every time you see them and ones other people will notice the second they walk into your room.

For all enquiries including orders, please call (UK) + 44 203 1297965 Telephone (Ireland) +353 86 2577232








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