Capital Region

Schenectady independent painting contractor leads colorful life

No two jobs are ever the same for Kurt Osterlitz
Kurt Osterlitz in front of a Niskayuna home where he has done most of the interior and exterior painting, February 8, 2019.
Kurt Osterlitz in front of a Niskayuna home where he has done most of the interior and exterior painting, February 8, 2019.

Kurt Osterlitz leads a colorful life – both literally and figuratively. Over the past three decades, he has painted thousands of Capital Region homes, apartments, and other buildings a rainbow of colors, inside and out. He does small jobs and large, from a hallway to a whole house. What keeps him drawn to the work is how it is constantly changing. “That’s a big part of why I do it,” he said. “It’s fresh. Every job’s different – it’s a different color all the time, and I’m meeting different people, and it’s all over the Capital Region.”

Osterlitz began working as a painter for another contractor when he was 17 years old, and eventually founded Kurt Osterlitz Painting in Schenectady. For the most part, he works solo with help on-call for large jobs.

Painting is not as easy as it might look. “I think painting – even painting walls in houses – is an art,” said Dona Frank-Federico, a realtor with Select Sotheby’s International in Saratoga Springs. “You have to be perfect – you don’t want to look at a wall and see lines in two different shades of gray,” she said.

Painting is the number one home improvement project that homeowners do, because it can take a dull house and make it look much newer. “Visually, it’s one of the first things that people see when they walk into your house,” Frank-Federico said.

Kurt Osterlitz paint job before and after.
Kurt Osterlitz paint job before and after.

“Painting is doing it perfectly and doing it fast,” Osterlitz said. His decades of experience have allowed him to hone his craft, along with gaining vast knowledge about the paint products available. Osterlitz said he has had experience with just about every product there is.

While skill and knowledge are important, they’re only half of the equation for a successful painting business, which is much more than just applying paint. “Customer relations is very important,” Osterlitz said. “I think that’s what separates painters. It’s basically doing what you say you’re going to do – that’s what makes you stand out,” he said.

Frank-Federico found Osterlitz through a referral from a friend when she was looking for someone to paint her house. “I wanted somebody reliable,” she said, and she found Osterlitz to be that, among other things, like his honesty, fairness, and how he takes his job seriously. “He’s sort of a perfectionist, but in a good way,” she said.

He does very little marketing, he said, because he has built a reputation through the years. “It’s mostly word of mouth,” he said. He does use Facebook. “I get a lot of work from posting work that I do, and a friend tells another friend.”

Osterlitz prides himself on being upfront with people and helpful. Many times, he doubles as interior designer, helping people choose the right colors. He might go and buy small samples of different colors and put swatches on the wall so that customers can make a final decision.

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One of the changes he has seen in the industry is with paint colors. In addition to color palette trends, the technology for tinting paints allows for colors to be matched much more easily. He can take a color card from one company and obtain the same color paint made by another manufacturer with the current color matching technology. Customers also have access to more color palettes than ever before from a variety of companies, thanks to the computer.

Osterlitz has seen other changes over the last 30 years. He navigated the paint industry’s shift to being green. The products available changed in 2004 when the Environmental Protection Agency banned oil-based paints in six states, including New York. While oil-based paints are more durable, they take longer to dry and either turpentine or paint thinner is required for clean-up. In response to the ban, paint companies began improving water-based paint (called “latex-based,” even though there is no latex rubber in the formula). “The chemical make-up of the paint is getting better and better,” he said. “They’re learning how to make water-based paints more pliable.”

His work has also gotten easier physically in some aspects because of the improvements in both aerial and scissor lifts, whereas in the early years, everything was done on ladders. Painting equipment has also improved, with sprayers that have piston drivers versus a diaphragm pump like before, and air sprayers are now leaving a better finish, he said.

The major draw to his work still remains the people with whom he works. “I meet all different diversities and demographics – I meet so many different people,” he said. Every customer is unique. One time, a 100-year-old woman hired him to paint her living room, and when he got there, she insisted on helping.

Each job provides an entirely different experience. One year, he was painting two sides of a house in Galway. “The next day when we got back to the job, there were literally thousands of ladybugs stuck to the side of the house,” Osterlitz remembered. “We had to scrape them all off and repaint everything.

But you don’t get the feeling that he minded. It’s just all in a day’s work.

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