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

Just Posted

Greater father involvement in the home leads to improved childhood development and increased marital satisfaction, says expert. (Black Press Media file photo)
University of Victoria researcher finds lack of father involvement a drag on gender equality

Working women still taking on most child and household duties in Canada

Emergency health services treated a person after they were blocking traffic at the intersection of Fort and Douglas Streets on June 17. (Evert Lindquist/ News Staff)
Victoria intersection traffic returns to normal after protester blocked roadway

A person in a motorized wheelchair was blocking the intersection at Fort and Douglas Streets

New COVID-19 cases on Vancouver Island by local health area for the week of June 6-12. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control image)
New COVID-19 cases up on Island, but health officials say trends going right way

There were 22 new COVID-19 cases in Greater Victoria last week after just four the week before

With local high schoolers unable to have a traditional graduation ceremony due to COVID-19 restrictions, Amica Douglas House celebrated the momentous occasion of eight of their dining room servers. (Courtesy Amica Douglas House)
8 Greater Victoria teens don fancy dresses, celebrate grad with seniors

With celebrations nixed, Amica Douglas House hosts event for its serving staff

Eric White’s roadside farm stand in Metchosin sits stocked with produce. (Photo courtesy of Eric White)
Fledgling Metchosin farmer frustrated by thefts from stand

Eric White said every dollar made at the roadside helps sustain his farm

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: When was the last time you visited the mainland?

The films are again lighting the screens at local theatres, the wine… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of June 15

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

The Co-op gas station at Whiskey Creek is burning after a camper van exploded while refueling just before 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)
Exploding camper van torches Highway 4 gas station between Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni

Highway traffic blocked after Whiskey Creek gas station erupts into flames

Helen Austin performing with Trent Freeman at the 2018 Vancouver Island MusicFest. Austin is one of the many performers listed for the 2021 event.
Vancouver Island MusicFest goes virtual for 2021

Black Press to stream 25 hours of programming July 9-11

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

Most Read