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Tour Marnie Oursler's Charming Coastal Abode

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Marnie Oursler builds houses for a living, translating clients’ wish lists into reality.

When it came time to build her own home, she envisioned a place to retreat from the demands of work life. Her 6,400-square-foot house in North Bethany encompasses a welcoming gathering space, gourmet kitchen, sumptuous master suite and a rec room equipped with a custom pingpong table made from reclaimed wood.

There is no home office, a thoughtful omission that reflects her decision to make the house a place to enjoy, relax and recharge. “Just a desk where I pay bills and write cards,” she says. “I don’t bring my work stuff home with me.”

Oursler is host of “Big Beach Builds,” a show on the DIY Network that chronicles the transformation of faded beach houses into spectacular sanctuaries. She also is a fifth-generation home builder.

“Dad is a builder, and every few years we would move to a new house,” Oursler says. “We always had really neat houses growing up, and my mom did a lot of great things with decorating.”

When Oursler went searching for a site for her latest home, she had only two requirements: a location east of Del. 1 in North Bethany where she could access private beaches and a price she could afford.

Courtesy of Marnie Custom Homes

Lofty plans

She found both in a sagging bungalow on a quiet cul-de-sac. Razing the house would give her a clean palette for the four-story retreat she envisioned.

“I wanted four stories, so I had to get creative in engineering the floor system and getting the duct system to work,” she says.

Aesthetically, it would include the architectural elements Oursler is known for: beefy millwork, shiplap walls made from poplar planks, diverse ceiling heights and open, substantial staircases. The palette is pale: dove grays, milky whites, sky blues.

“That authentic New England look is my personal style: shake siding, lanterns, gray outside and neutral inside,” she says.

There are two options for going up and down between floors. An elevator is the mode of choice for bringing in groceries and heavy objects. Otherwise, Oursler takes the wide, open staircase.

“I treat staircases like rooms because everyone uses them,” she says. “It’s not just a path to another room.”

The ground floor is devoted to recreation, with a wood-topped pingpong table pieced together like an American flag. Oursler worked with craftsmen at Old Wood Delaware, a Harbeson-based purveyor of reclaimed wood, to create the one-of-a-kind piece. A Dutch door leads to a laundry room.

A bunk room on the second-floor guest area sleeps four—“great when the little ones visit.” The risers on the stairs between the bunks are clad in the same boldly patterned black-and-white cement tile she used in the adjoining bathroom. The door to the bunk room is crafted from old wood.

“I like to use unexpected things to add character,” she says. “I don’t like matchie-matchie.”

Courtesy of Marnie Custom Homes

Artistic and creative

Oursler spends most of her time between the open living area on the third floor and the master suite on the fourth floor.

The areas are a showcase for the details that are a signature of her work. There is a small door in the wall off the kitchen, the entrance to a dog house positioned under the stairs. Five-panel doors, almost a foot taller and an inch thicker than a standard door, are custom-made. What appears to be a bookcase is a secret door that pivots to provide access to a storage area.

The kitchen is designed to promote flow. The core work area encompasses a Sub-Zero fridge, integrated dishwasher, six-burner Wolf range and a showstopper—an oversized range hood that combines brushed metal with shiny stainless straps. White Shaker-style cabinets reflect a spare, cottage-style vibe.

Oursler designed a smaller, secondary island in wood to accommodate a large stainless sink that can be readily filled with ice and converted into a beverage center for entertaining. The large primary island is topped with a thick counter made of walnut. It offers a surface for serving and casual dining.

Courtesy of Marnie Custom Homes

A walk-in pantry serves as an auxiliary kitchen. It is equipped with a fridge, coffee center, microwave, toaster oven and other amenities, “ideal when more than one family is staying here and they want to keep out of one another’s way.”

She draws her designs by hand in pencil on paper, “then I pick the materials I want to use.” The process hasn’t varied much since she was a girl and fashioned miniature ceramic houses, using candles to light the windows and send smoke up the chimney.

“I was always artistic and very creative,” she says.

Oursler painted the two large canvases depicting sea, sky and sand that hang in the gathering area. “I couldn’t find the colors I wanted, so decided to make my own art,” she says.

There’s a small built-in bar for entertaining. A huge chrome-and-glass globe chandelier is suspended from a coffered ceiling. Comfy sectional seating is upholstered in white linen. The fireplace is sheathed in sand-colored stone. Walls are covered in shiplap, painted white. French doors open onto a screened porch.

Wood floors are set in traditional running planks in the kitchen and, in the adjoining conversation area, a herringbone pattern. A vaulted plank ceiling defines the dining space.

“There are four different ceiling heights on this floor,” she notes.

True divided light windows—four panes over a single large pane—are accented by chunky moldings and grill work. Each casing requires 19 individual pieces of wood, a format Oursler designed seven years ago “and we have used it in every house since then.”

New England meets New York

In the fourth-floor master suite, she blended the New England style she has loved for years with the hip notes of boutique hotels in New York.

The room is spare and neutral, with white linens, whitewashed shiplap walls, and a soaring vaulted and beamed ceiling. The bed is built on a platform to provide a view of the sea.

“I see the sun rise over the ocean every morning,” she says.

Pocket doors with frosted glass panels separate the bedroom and a spacious master bath that is reminiscent of a spa, with a shower outfitted with a rain head and a slipper soaking tub with a window view. A towel warmer is within reach.

Courtesy of Marnie Custom Homes

The bath is sheathed in Calacatta marble, a milky stone with dramatic gray veining. Oursler interpreted the marble in various patterns. In the shower, the stone is laid in a basket-weave pattern. The backsplash behind the double vanity is set in running bricks. The floor is a traditional herringbone.

Her goal was to create a space that is luxurious but not fussy.

“I like detail—and if you don’t have clutter you can show it off,” she says. 

The Oursler home and other notable properties will be open for the 26th annual Beach and Bay Cottage Tour July 26–27. The event benefits Friends of the South Coastal Library. For details, call 537-5828 or email info@beachandbaycottagetour.com.


GET THE LOOK:

Make a big statement with oversized lighting. In the Oursler home, chandeliers ranging from a large glass globe framed in chrome to hanging lanterns to glass pendants provide both illumination and ambience. Connect with cottage style. Shiplap—walls constructed from wood planks—infuse a space with charm and character. Lanterns, reclaimed wood and Shaker-style cabinets keep the vibe going. Give materials a different look by mixing patterns. Oursler reinterprets wood, tile and stone by contrasting running brick, herringbone and other patterns. Keep it light and bright. A pale palette—think sand and sky—and simply dressed windows infuse a home with a sense of cheerfulness. Cook up a kitchen layout that flows. Establish a beverage center and a secondary work station outside the core space to avoid bottlenecks.

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