The Zebra group's Rus Collins - Photography by Lia Crowe

Secrets and Lives With Rus Collins

Zebra Group designer talks creativity, painting and baking during Covid-19

  • Dec. 14, 2020 7:00 a.m.

– Words by Angela Cowan Photography by Lia Crowe

After nearly 30 years at the helm of Zebra Group, designer Rus Collins is as energized as ever by the creative process that sees ideas transformed into reality. And that enthusiasm and energy has only increased since launching Zebra Construction in 2004 with his business partner Martin Whitehead.

“We couldn’t possibly build all the houses we design, but every one that we get to do, it’s satisfying and rewarding to see how the vision we all had at the beginning is fully realized at the end,” says Rus, adding, “I get most excited about working on infill projects. Whether it’s tearing an old house down, or having it picked up and taken away on a barge, you’re left with a blank lot. Starting from scratch in an established neighbourhood—for me I find it challenging.”

With the trend in design still leaning modern, it adds another layer of complexity to fitting those puzzle pieces together, especially when the neighbourhood is full of older, traditional homes.

“I like modern homes,” Rus says, “and I like them to fit wherever they’re put.”

One of the most satisfying moments came recently when Rus decided to take a detour by a modern house Zebra Group had done in Oak Bay for a repeat client, and learned that very often, passersby would stop and just look at the house, complimenting its design and feel.

“I hadn’t seen it since the lot was vacant and we designed the house,” says Rus. “And that’s really fulfilling to hear that kind of feedback. I want it to be something people look at because they’re interested and intrigued by it, but also because it does fit in as part of that streetscape.”

He adds: “I’m hoping that for a lot of our designs—once the landscaping is mature—you don’t know if the house is 10 or 50 years old.”

Outside of the office, Rus feeds his creativity with cooking, art and painting, among other pursuits.

“I love to cook. Ever since the COVID pandemic started, I’ve been baking bread and making sauerkraut, and making pickles and other neat, fermented things,” he says. “And I also like to paint. I find that what I do for a living is so exact—when you draw houses and floor plans, it’s so technical—so when I go to paint, I want the opposite. I want to be freer with the brush.”

He’s drawn to abstracts, and since getting “seriously” into painting in 2007, has sold some pieces.

“There’s definitely a parallel between painting and art and architecture,” he says. “A painting is supposed to capture your interest, and lead you through it. [A paintings is] like a house. To me, a house needs to draw you in. When you open the front door, you don’t want to run to the back of the house to look at the view. If you draw them in, and lead them through it, then maybe they’re experiencing your artwork, or some architectural feature, and then when they get to the view, it’s a completely different experience.”

Envy:

Whose shoes would you like to walk in?

I’m actually quite comfortable walking in my own shoes. If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that no matter how appealing someone else’s life may look from the outside, every one of us carries our own demons.

Gluttony:

What is the food you could eat over and over again?

Sashimi and sushi. And did I mention I like to drink red wine? Oh, and pizza…

Greed:

You’re given $1 million that you have to spend selfishly. What would you spend it on?

After COVID, I’d buy two first-class tickets to travel around the world until I run out of money.

Wrath:

Pet peeves?

Political correctness has gone too far, and there are too many rules that control how we live.

Sloth:

Where would you spend a long time doing nothing?

Anywhere in the world that is warm, with a beautiful beach and a good selection of wine. Hawaii, Barcelona, Nice, to name a few!

Pride:

What is the one thing you’re secretly proud of?

My business, with my hard-working partners and staff that always show their strong work ethic and integrity, plus the amazing clients who have helped us be successful.

Lust:

What makes your heart beat faster?

A warm, sunny day, driving my car with the top down and the right music playing on the stereo, next to my girl, and on a road trip adventure to somewhere we’ve never been.

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

Like Boulevard Magazine on Facebook and follow them on Instagram

Boulevard MagazineBusinessFamily Homes

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Victoria Hospice staff Brianne Ohl, left, Angela Chalmers, right, and Sandi Ogloff, at back, show off their buttons that show a picture of them smiling. Staff has worked hard to maintain the connections with patients despite the barriers of PPE and rigid COVID-19 protocols. (Victoria Hospice Photo)
Hospice provides compassion in a time of COVID

Victoria Hospice 40th anniversary on pause during pandemic

Look for the Random Act of Kindness Day colouring contest in Black Press issues Jan. 17. Physical entries can be mailed or dropped off to local Black Press offices. A scanned or photographed entry can be emailed to info@victoriafoundation.bc.ca. Winning entries can get a $50 gift card to Bolen Books and a $100 donation to a charity of their choice from the VIctoria Foundation. (Pixabay)
Colouring contest coming for Kindness Day

Kindness Day colouring contest in partnership with Victoria Foundation

Sidney has moved the remaining parts of its public consultation phase part of the Official Community Plan online. (Black Press Media File)
Sidney moves to an ‘all online engagement’ process for OCP

Staff says OCP charrette scheduled for mid-February

(File photo)
‘Very lucky’: Two passengers, dog escape rollover crash in Saanich unscathed

Vehicle flips on Trans Canada Highway after hitting median, possibly due to ice, firefighter says

The large metal gate stolen from Muddy Valley Farm in rural Saanich on Jan. 18 reappeared less than a week later. (Muddy Valley Farm/Facebook)
Large metal gate stolen from Saanich farm makes mysterious reappearance

12-foot gate returned to Muddy Valley Farm less than a week after it was stolen

Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021 is International Lego Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 24 to 30

Lego Day, Talk Like a Grizzled Prospector Day and Puzzle Day are all coming up this week

A 75-year-old aircraft has been languishing in a parking lot on the campus of the University of the Fraser Valley, but will soon be moved to the B.C. Aviation Museum. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Vintage military aircraft moving from Chilliwack to new home at B.C. Aviation Museum

The challenging move to Vancouver Island will be documented by Discovery Channel film crews

A video posted to social media by Chilliwack resident Rob Iezzi shows a teenager getting kicked in the face after being approached by three suspects on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (YouTube/Rob i)
VIDEO: Security cameras capture ‘just one more assault’ near B.C. high school

Third high-school related assault captured by Chilliwack resident’s cameras since beginning of 2021

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Oklahoma State Rep. Justin Humphrey prepares to speak at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. A mythical, ape-like creature that has captured the imagination of adventurers for decades has now become the target of Rep. Justin Humphrey. Humphrey, a Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season, He says issuing a state hunting license and tag could help boost tourism. (Steve Gooch/The Oklahoman via AP, File)
Oklahoma lawmaker proposes ‘Bigfoot’ hunting season

A Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season

Economic Development and Official Languages Minister Melanie Joly responds to a question in the House of Commons Monday November 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Federal minister touts need for new B.C. economic development agency

Last December’s federal economic update promised a stimulus package of about $100 billion this year

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2017, file photo, Larry King attends the 45th International Emmy Awards at the New York Hilton, in New York. Former CNN talk show host King has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for more than a week, the news channel reported Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. CNN reported the 87-year-old King contracted the coronavirus and was undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)
Larry King, broadcasting giant for half-century, dies at 87

King conducted an estimated 50,000 on-air interviews

Comox Valley RCMP are looking for witnesses after the theft of a generator worth thousands of dollars. Photo supplied
RCMP asking Vancouver Island residents to watch for stolen generator

Vehicle may have been travelling on Highway 19

Terry Keogh, an RDN Transit driver, used his paramedic skills the morning of Jan. 22 after coming across an unconscious woman along his route in downtown Nanaimo. (RDN Transit photo)
Nanaimo transit driver stops his bus and helps get overdosing woman breathing again

Former EMT from Ireland performed CPR on a woman in downtown Nanaimo on Friday

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a daily briefing in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
31 cases of COVID-19 variants detected in Canada: Health officials

Dr. Theresa Tam made announces 13 more variant COVID-19 cases in Canada

Most Read