NC Design Studio’s architecture embraces natural beauty

Marty and Betz Judd’s house is tilted, by design. Principal architect Nicolas Cole explains, “if you look closely, the front of the house appears slightly rotated relative to the street so as to prioritize a more scenic view parallel to the river.”

As Nic explained his vision he pointed to the street-side windows and then to the back windows overlooking the Clark Fork and suddenly I felt as though I was amid his great orchestra of design. 

Looking toward the river and its mountainous backdrop, I realized what Nic, the founding partner of NC Design Studio, meant by incorporating the “aesthetic interplay of architecture and nature” into his work. 

The many varied windows requested by Betz, who frequently emphasized her love for natural sunlight, doubled as picture frames wherein bits of the surrounding scenery served as living art. Depending on where I stood, each window frame showcased a different picture: one might be of a tree, the curious climb of a mountain.

The aesthetic interplay of architecture and nature, I thought, as a bird flitted from one window-framed “picture” to the next.

Formed in 2009, NC Design Studio lists an impressively diverse portfolio of residential and commercial projects, ranging from a tiny home affordable housing village in East Missoula to Paws-Up Resort glamping camps, to the Judds’ beautiful, spacious Canyon River residence. To me, the small team’s architectural diversity confirmed the Judds’ praise for its principal architect: Nic is no design dictator. 

“He listens,” Betz frequently emphasized.

For more than two years, Nic and the Judds problem solved and co-designed the Canyon River residence, working with state-of-the-art 3D home rendering software and boldly negotiating neighborhood covenants, such as the covenant that frowned upon “tilted” houses. Another covenant impairing the Judds’ sunlit, vision-restricted solar-panel roofing; yet, the Judds prevailed, hiring Big Sky Solar and Wind for installation.

Like the bird outside, Betz fluttered from room to room as she graciously guided me through their design decisions. Betz detailed her vision of having a home that’s open and communal, unimpaired by doors. Nic accommodated her vision by substituting walls with wooden beams and stone columns, visually leading the eye from the living room to the kitchen to the dining area and so on. I asked if the beams were strictly cosmetic or functional, to which Nic replied, “The architecture is the design.”

Later, I’d learn that Betz’s spirit animal is the hummingbird, which they appropriately commemorated above the fireplace with a vibrant painting of the bird, uncaged.

Marty’s Butte-raised personality manifested in my favorite design contribution: the well-stocked bar in the basement, which we put to use for a quick mid-tour refreshment. Marty’s spirit animal? The mockingbird, known for its sing-song playfulness.

Though balanced by his expertise, Nic’s open-minded project-by-project approach not only allows for his clients to leave a more specialized, intimate imprint on final design decisions, but it encourages them to do so. 

“You want to keep the same language throughout the house,” Nic explained, and this requires translating the design language of his clients’ imaginations. Yet, to a more pragmatic end, a line between imagination and execution needs to be drawn.

For the Canyon River house, Wade Gooden of Gooden Construction, Inc. helped locate that line.

“There’s always a budget,” Wade admitted at the NC Design Studio office, where I later met Nic following the house tour. “And the most successful projects involve finding that line early.” While NC Design Studio assisted with the creative aspects, Wade worked closely with the Judds to materialize their dream home. His involvement began early in the home design process.

It’s for this reason that Wade prefers interviewing for a project over bidding. 

“If you’re working with a client for over two to three years,” Wade explained, “at that point we’re family.” Traditionally, the lowest bidder earns a project simply on monetary terms. Instead, Wade, like Nic, seems to value the more personable human connection involved in building a home.

Here, the interplay of architecture and human nature emerges.

Even though Nic and Wade finished the home, they helped the Judds beyond the contractual call of duty. Before the Judds officially moved into their new home, Wade helped with odd chores, such as collecting their mail and feeding their pets. Nic continues to check up on the house, and both Nic and Wade remain good friends with the Judds. 

“It’s the last ten percent that matters,” Wade added. “You don’t delete their phone numbers after you’re finished.”

To punctuate this point, before ending the home tour, Marty and Betz served us Butte-style pasties and salad, after which Marty invited me to stop by if ever I’m floating the Clark Fork. I laughed, to which Marty responded, “But, seriously, please do. You’re always welcome.” And so if you’re reading this, Marty and Betz, I’d like it to go on public record that I accept your invitation.



NC Design Studio

235 N. 1st Street W.


Principal Architect: Nic Cole 

Project Architects: Mike Bond & Scott Friend


Wade Gooden Construction

16862 Beckwith Street, Frenchtown