Photo: Elias Funez

Developing a vision: Architectural team honored for residential design

The Union Staff Writer: Cory Fisher 

Robert Wallis and his team at Wallis Design Studio Architects in Nevada County were recently recognized by Home Builder Digest for being among the best residential architects in the outer Sacramento metro region. The prestigious acknowledgment — coming from colleagues in a highly competitive field — came as a pleasant surprise to Wallis, who had no idea the publication was reviewing his work.

The article in the March 22 edition of Home Builder Digest entitled, “The Best Residential Architects in Outer Sacramento Metro Area, California,” stated that the editorial team “considered each firm’s history, awards, publication features, and affiliations with the industry’s biggest institutions.” In addition, they carefully evaluated “the quality of the firm’s work, the background of its principal architects and partners, as well as the client testimonials and reviews that each firm earned over the years.”

“This was a total surprise,” said Wallis. “We didn’t submit anything. They found us.”

A nationally known online magazine focusing on the residential housing industry, Home Builder Digest shines a light on the best home builders, remodelers, and architects throughout the U.S. The publication is geared for both professional homebuilders and those planning their dream homes.

With Wallis Design Studio Architects lauded for designing “some of the most unforgettable residences in the region,” the judges at Home Builder Digest took particular interest in the team’s Bohn residence project, a modern waterfront ranch home in Lake of the Pines. They initially spotted photos on Wallis’ website,

“The home was designed to highlight the area’s breath-taking views,” stated the piece. “Its floor-to-ceiling glass walls facing the lake-side of the home extends the already expansive interior space to its beautiful outdoors. The dominant use of natural materials, especially wood and brick, further emphasizes its natural setting.”

As a boy growing up in Auburn, Wallis said he developed an early passion for building and creating things, such as constructing whole towns in his sandbox and building a multi-level treehouse. He went on to graduate from Colfax High School and earn a degree in architecture from the California College of the Arts in Oakland. After garnering considerable commercial and residential design experience in the Bay Area and Roseville, Wallis founded Wallis Design Studio Architects in 2010, with a mission of “creating expressions in place through a commitment to collaboration, quality, and the desire to deliver great value to our clients.”

Much of the joy of the job at his firm, said Wallis, is not having a signature style.

“The design of each house or space is based on the client’s preferences,” he said. “This allows us to flex different muscles when it comes to design and construction. That keeps it interesting. The best projects are when the client has a clear vision and is fun to work with. Then it becomes a truly collaborative effort. The Bohn house was definitely one of our favorites.”

“Robert and his team were able to take an exterior we liked and have it come together with the floor plan we wanted,” said Karl Bohn, who owns the waterfront Lake of the Pines home with his wife, Julie. “When we bought the lot it had been for sale for quite some time because of a steep slope and several large rock outcroppings. Some thought it would be too difficult to build on. But the architectural team made it work beautifully. Now people tell me they wish they’d bought this lot!”

When it comes to commercial projects, Wallis stresses that they don’t have to be boring — they, too, can include a degree of creative expression, despite more predictable budget constraints. Two of Wallis’ recent Grass Valley commercial standouts include Sierra Central Credit Union on Plaza Drive and the River Valley Community Bank on Brunswick Road.

“You can accomplish a fair amount on a budget — you just have to think differently,” said Wallis. “Even in a commercial setting, there is an emotional element to creating spaces that draw you in. I see that in both of those businesses.”
A former board member at Hospitality House, Wallis was the architect for the initial structure in 2011, a job he completed mostly free of charge. Now, with new COVID-19 protocols, he will again be working on the shelter to provide more indoor and outdoor space, only this time with federal funding.

Throughout the pandemic, Wallis Design Studio Architects has actually seen an increase in business — in fact, it’s hiring. Added to its busy plate is the construction of a new office, where it’ll move from its current Nevada City location to the newly renovated space in Pioneer Village on South Auburn Street in Grass Valley.
“It’s really an honor when someone trusts us with their life savings to build the home they’ve always wanted,” said Wallis. “The most rewarding part of our job is working with a lot of great people and helping people develop their vision and their dream.”

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at