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

Kent Harrison Search and Rescue brought a man to safety, and awaiting paramedics, after a 20-foot fall down an embankment on Jan. 23, 2020, on Harrison West Forest Service Road. (Kent Harrison Search and Rescue photo)
Rescue crew lifts man up 20-foot embankment near Harrison Lake

Kent Harrison Search and Rescue says this is the fifth call already this year

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. (Graeme Roy/The Canadian Press)
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of Jan. 24

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

A mallard duck swims through Salish Pond in Chilliwack on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
WEATHER: Snow, rain in forecast for Fraser Valley

Fraser Valley has been treated to more than a week of mostly sunny weather, but it’s about to end

sd
VIDEO: Mission drag racer scores 1st career win, sets world record, makes history in 2020

Justin Bond, founder and owner of JBS Equipment, hits milestones in break-out year

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 Chilliwack secondary

Third high-school related assault Rob Iezzi’s cameras have captured since beginning of 2021

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sits in on a COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, B.C. minister of health. (Birinder Narang/Twitter)
PHOTOS: Bernie Sanders visits B.C. landmarks through the magic of photo editing

Residents jump on viral trend of photoshopping U.S. senator into images

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

From the left: Midway RCMP Csts. Jonathan Stermscheg and Chris Hansen, Public Servant Leanne Mclaren and Cpl. Phil Peters. Pictured in the front are Mclaren’s dog, Lincoln and Peters’ dog, Angel. Photo courtesy of BC RCMP
B.C. Mounties commended for bringing firewood to elderly woman

Cpl. Phil Peters said he and detachment members acted after the woman’s husband went to hospital

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

An Uber driver’s vehicle is seen after the company launched service, in Vancouver, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Several taxi companies have lost a court bid to run Uber and Lyft off the road in British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Taxi companies lose court bid to quash Uber, Lyft approvals in British Columbia

Uber said in a statement that the ruling of the justice is clear and speaks for itself

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

Most Read