On the Internet, no one cares that you’re 13. That’s what Henry Kilpatrick discovered when he started his vintage-furniture retail site, Magic City Finds, in September 2011, at the dawn of his teen years.
Kilpatrick, who is now 14 and lives in Birmingham, Ala., had no idea who Herman Miller was when he plucked a fiberglass armchair from his grandmother’s storage space, but one online search later, he knew he had a find. He plowed the $75 he made on that initial sale, along with some birthday money, back into furniture bought at estate sales and off Craigslist, including 20 more Eames chairs, which cycled through his parents’ garage. He mostly works on the weekends, as it is “tough to do schoolwork and business, and schoolwork comes first,” he said.
Question: What gave you the idea to even look in your grandmother’s storage?
Answer: I had grown up going to estate sales. We are just that type of family.
Question: Is there a lot of modern furniture in Birmingham?
Answer: I find that the generation that collected mid-century modern in the ’50s and ’60s, I hate to say it, they are passing away.
You find it at estate sales. It is not hugely popular here in Birmingham, which makes it easier to find, but I wouldn’t say there was a lot of it.
Question: And how do you get to those sales?
Answer: My mom has been great. She has provided transportation for me anywhere and everywhere we go.
Question: How do people react when they meet you?
Answer: I often get asked if I am looking for my college dorm. They always think they are dealing with someone older.
Question: Who buys from you?
Answer: A lot of my buyers are shop owners in Atlanta or New York that resell what they buy from me. I don’t mind as long as they are giving me business. Location really affects the price. When you do online auctions, it is countrywide, and you are going to get more.
Question: Have you furnished your room with mid-century furniture?
Answer: No, our house is very traditional. My room is just what I have had for forever, so I haven’t kept anything for myself.
Question: Who are your favorite designers?
Answer: Eero Saarinen. I went to St. Louis and we had a chance to see the (Gateway) Arch. I would love to have one of his pieces but that hasn’t happened yet.
Question: Who else?
Answer: Russel Wright fascinates me. He started really early, 1939, 1940, and caught the mid-century style before it became really popular and it began to be mass produced. His stuff for Conant Ball is really neat. I have my eye on a king-sized Conant Ball headboard around here that I am hoping to pick up. Maybe I can get it if it will fit in the car.
Question: What is your biggest score?
Answer: My biggest markup was vintage travel posters. I found them at an estate sale hanging up in the garage. One was for Bermuda, one was for a place in India. My mom was, like, “No, I don’t think you should buy those.” I paid $5 for the pair, stuck them on eBay that night, and someone paid over $600 for the pair.
Question: What do you look for when you’re buying?
Answer: You look for more sleek modern lines. If it is kitschy and more ’70s, I usually don’t buy it. I do look for teak.
Question: Do you have purchases you regret?
Answer: I would say my biggest regret is something I didn’t buy: a Lane Acclaim dining set, dining table, eight chairs, a credenza, a china cabinet, all for $375. I couldn’t get it because I didn’t have a way to get it home.
Question: Your mother’s car wasn’t big enough?
Answer: We drive a Buick Enclave, an SUV crossover. You would be amazed how much stuff you can get in here, like a 7-foot credenza. All the seats fold down. But me and my dad just went in on halves on a trailer. I’m not afraid to buy in large quantities any more.