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

Environment Canada is forecasting snow for the east Vancouver Island region the weekend of Jan. 23. (Black Press file)
Up to 15 cm of snow forecast for Duncan area this weekend

Snow to begin Saturday night, according to Environment Canada

Sorting food to deliver to community members isolating due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Back row from left: Philomena Wilson, Sosefina Aleck, Ethan Wilson and Lucetta Wilson. In front is Kennedy Aleck. (Submitted)
“Let’s share a meal even if I can’t sit with you”: Cowichan woman’s food drive helps feed members in isolation

Positive response to missing ceremonies and rising racism benefits dozens of households

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the legislature, Jan. 11, 2021. (B.C. government)
Vancouver Island smashes COVID-19 high: 47 new cases in a day

Blowing past previous records, Vancouver Island is not matching B.C.s downward trend

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. This virus was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China. [CDC]
Lake Cowichan daycare closes for 10 days due to COVID-19 exposure

A client at Creative Angels Daycare came in contact with someone who tested positive

Businesses continue to struggle under COVID-19 restrictions as the pandemic reaches the one-year mark. (B.C. government)
Another 564 COVID-19 cases, mass vaccine plan coming Friday

15 more deaths, community cluster declared in Williams Lake

A specialized RCMP team is investigating a suspicious trailer, which might have connections to the illicit drug trade, found abandoned outside a Cache Creek motel. (Photo credit: <em>Journal</em> files)
Police probe U-Haul trailer linked to illicit drugs left outside Cache Creek motel

Hazardous materials found inside believed to be consistent with the production of illicit drugs

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Premier John Horgan leaves the podium following his first press conference of the year as he comments on various questions from the media in the Press Gallery at B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, January 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interprovincial travel restrictions a no-go, Horgan says after reviewing legal options

The B.C. NDP government sought legal advice as concerns of travel continue

The cost of potentially counting deer regionwide was among the issues that prompted Capital Regional District committee members to vote against pursuing a greater CRD role in deer management. (Black Press Media file photo)
Expanded deer management a non-starter for Greater Victoria

Capital Regional District committee maintains current level of support

Gem Lake Top, at Big White Ski Resort, seen at Jan. 8. (Big White Ski Resort)
Big White cancels $7.3M in lift tickets, accommodations due to COVID-19 orders

Since November, the ski resort has been forced to make several changes

Darlene Curylo scratched a $3M ticket, BCLC’s largest ever scratch and win prize. (BCLC)
Kelowna woman in shock after winning BCLC’s largest-ever instant-ticket prize

Darlene Curylo couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw the amount of money she’d won from a scratch ticket

While each person has different reasons for becoming homeless, a UBCO study shows they learn through their interactions with different services to perform ‘as homeless’ based on the expectations of service providers. (Contributed)
Kelowna homeless forced to ‘perform’ for resources, says UBCO study

One participant in the study said ‘It is about looking homeless, but not too homeless’

Aquaculture employee from Vancouver Island, Michelle, poses with a comment that she received on social media. Facebook group Women in Canadian Salmon Farming started an online campaign #enoughisenough to highlight the harassment they were facing online after debates about Discovery Islands fish farms intensified on social media. (Submitted photo)
Female aquaculture employees report online bullying, say divisive debate has turned sexist

Vancouver Island’s female aquaculture employees start #enoughisenough to address misogynistic comments aimed at them

Most Read