Step into Zuzana Kovar and Nick Skepper’s Red Hill workers cottage and it immediately feels like home.
The kettle is on, Max the greyhound gets up to greet you (Maggie, another greyhound, stays put – “She doesn’t get up for anyone,” Skepper says) and everything around you is at once considered and somewhat minimal. It’s a space that feels lived in and loved.
Kovar and Skepper moved into the house seven years ago and have been slowly renovating it ever since. To them it feels unfinished – there’s still a lengthy to-do list – but for a visitor it pops with character.
“Sometimes it’s easy to forget to enjoy it as it is instead of always thinking of what it will be,” Skepper says.
“A lot of things here are sort of temporary but they’ve sort of been temporary for seven years,” Kovar adds, laughing.
You can forgive Kovar and Skepper for taking their time. Both trained architects, the couple have been busy running their own architecture practice, Zuzana & Nicholas, since 2013. Originally established with funding from Skepper's PhD, the pair has since worked on numerous residential projects, renovating, extending and designing new homes from scratch.
“I think a lot of practices start when they’re working for someone else and [someone] then approaches you separately to do a private job,” Skepper says. “We didn’t have any work or anything like that when we started.”
Being a couple probably helped. Kovar and Skepper first met when studying architecture at the University of Queensland and started dating soon after.
“There’s no big story,” Skepper says. “It happens a bit in architecture school. Because of the nature of the degree, you end up spending a lot of time together.”
The couple tend to be understated in their discussions of work and art too, and play down their achievements. When getting involved in a new residential project, it’s not the ideation that gets them most excited, but the communication with their clients.
“That’s probably one of the most enjoyable parts of what we do," Skepper says. "Designing houses and working with people, having conversations about how you might live.”
Away from Zuzana & Nicholas, Kovar lectures at Griffith University in the Architecture and Design school. The role has allowed her to further investigate some of the themes she covered as part of her PhD, completed through RMIT in 2014, and the book Architecture in Abjection: Bodies, Spaces and Their Relations, published last year.
Both Kovar and Skepper paint, and have exhibited works that explore block colours. Their next joint show will take place at the QCA Galleries. “We’ll be presenting at the Webb gallery in South Bank in early September,” Kovar says. “It’s nice doing these kinds of things because you're in total creative control, which is something I think a lot of architects struggle with.”
Aside from architecture and art, Kovar and Skepper also play in the band Ultra Material. They’ve previously released music on cassette and vinyl, and are hoping to do the same for an upcoming release.
Right now, though, it’s all about the house. So far they’ve completed two bedrooms, shifting them to the southern side of the building in order to keep the kitchen and living spaces full of light.
They’ve also renovated the bathroom, replaced the windows across the rest of the house and built an office underneath the house, where they work day-to-day.
Living, working and creating together could get a little messy, but for Nick Skepper and Zuzana Kovar it’s their normal.
“[Luckily] we tend to agree on a lot,” Kovar says.