You'll Swoon Over This Beautiful Vacation Home in Bethany Beach

The coastal stunner captures vistas of sea and sky outdoors—and embraces a three-generation family indoors.


Taking an up-close and personal look at lovely homes is a summer tradition in Bethany Beach. The 2018 Beach and Bay Cottage Tour takes place July 25–26. The event is presented by Friends of the South Coastal Library. Tickets are $30. For details, visit


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Abby and Neil Imus found the ideal place to build their vacation home, a rare vacant lot on the ocean in Bethany Beach.

Such a special setting required a unique house, a place that would both capture vistas of sea and sky outdoors and embrace three generations of the Imus family indoors.

“Our priorities were big windows to get the benefit of the beautiful view, a large, workable kitchen with good finishes, tall ceilings and wonderful decks,” Abby Imus says. “We also wanted fun features, like barn doors, hidden doors and a bunkroom for our grandchildren to enjoy.”

To transform their vision of a high-end, family-friendly retreat into reality, the couple turned to Marnie Oursler, founder of Bethany Beach-based Marnie Custom Homes. On a national level, she’s known as the host of the DIY Network show “Big Beach Builds.”

“When we were in the process of looking for a contractor, we went into a home she was building at the time,” Abby Imus says. “As soon as we saw it, we knew we had found our builder.”

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Architect Greg Hastings and Oursler worked together to interpret the Imuses’ aesthetic, a combination of modern and classic design. The result is a three-story, 3,400-square-foot beach house with a gray cedar clapboard and shake exterior, large four-over-one paned windows, and several decks trimmed with white railings and spindles.

“It was fun to mix the Imuses’ contemporary style with the traditional style Neil likes,” Oursler says. “They were very engaged, had so much enthusiasm for the project, and it was so much fun to collaborate with them.”


Expansive counter space accommodates several cooks in the spacious kitchen.


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Function and fun

Before Oursler could get to interior design, she focused on a plan to make the house function without sacrificing its connection to the outdoors. An elevator is convenient for bringing groceries and other items to the main living area on the third floor. But the shaft—essentially a three-story, 5-by-5 foot box—claims a lot of interior real estate. “So we sited it in the northwest corner of the house, where it wouldn’t obstruct the view of the ocean,” she says.

Oursler took a similar approach to the ground floor, where sightlines to the beach are obscured by dunes. It houses the garage, a foyer, storage and a laundry room that is conveniently adjacent to an outside shower. To conceal the washer and dryer from the foyer, she designed one of her signature pieces, a door artfully constructed to look like a bookcase. Small pictures, starfish and shells on the shelves complete the disguise.

The homeowners enjoy hosting their extended family for vacations and holidays. An open-concept, third-floor gathering space promotes mingling by combining the kitchen, dining area and living area.

In the kitchen, white shaker cabinets are dressed simply with pole handles. Expansive counter space accommodates several cooks. A second sink in the center island is handy for prep.

A bank of cupboards above the 42-inch upper cabinets provides storage for seldom-used items. Behind the rustic barn door is a pantry, where the Imuses stow small appliances and crab pots.

“With white cabinets and white countertops, we wanted to add something unexpected, a pop of color,” Oursler says. “We found it in a blue glass-tile backsplash that is absolutely gorgeous.”


The sleek fireplace in the living area is clad in a linear surround of deep gray stone.


The bunk bed in the guest room features a full-size bed
on the bottom and a twin on top.

Inviting and unfussy

There is casual seating at the island and a more formal setting in the adjacent dining area, where wood chairs with checked fabric skirts surround a large oval table. Overhead is a large chandelier of iron and crystal.

In the living area, the vibe is inviting and unfussy. Upholstered pieces are dressed in white slipcovers. A large cocktail table is crafted from distressed wood. The sleek, modern fireplace is clad in a linear surround of deep gray stone from floor to ceiling.

“It’s a contrast to what is basically a very pale palette,” Oursler says.

White-washed oak floors ground the space. Crisp white plantation-style shutters allow the homeowners to cover the windows that overlook neighbors’ homes. Windows and doors with views of the ocean are left uncovered to enhance the connection between the house and the vistas.

There are five bedrooms, including a secondary master suite and a guest room that also serves as an office. Oursler designed the beds, each with a view of the ocean. Custom headboards are outfitted with shelving on either side, a convenient place to tuck a book or a glass of water. Electrical outlets make it easy to recharge phones and other devices.

“We want to make things as clean as possible, so you don’t see cords sticking out,” she says.

In the master bedroom, the bed is made from white shiplap, echoing the planks in the vaulted and beamed ceiling above.

The ceiling in the master bath is vaulted, too. It’s an all-white retreat reminiscent of a European-style spa, with floor-to-ceiling Carrera marble walls, countertops and floors. A walk-in shower is enclosed with a marble surround. An octagonal window is fitted with rippled glass that allows light to enter while ensuring privacy.

Bunking at the beach

There’s a bunkroom for the Imus grandchildren, with a full-size bed on the bottom and a twin-size bed on the top. The lower bunk has a pull-out drawer for storage. Ladders connecting the bunks are outfitted with shelves for toys and books.

Oursler says bunkrooms have become a standard feature in second homes because they are an efficient use of space and allow homeowners to accommodate more guests. But her bunkrooms are far more comfortable and elaborate than the cabins at summer camp. They include such niceties as built-in lighting, wall niches to accommodate a cellphone and a glass of water and large en-suite baths.

“Bunkrooms are very popular, not only for kids. Grownups like them, too, for get-togethers like girls’ weekends,” Oursler says. “We have even done them with a queen mattress on the bottom for visiting parents who are sharing a room with their kids.”

Every step of the way, Oursler and the homeowners discussed ways to enhance the home’s function and feeling.

Near the end of the project, the homeowners and the builder knew each other so well, the couple turned over the design reins to Oursler, giving her freedom to come up with a plan for the railings and other details of the staircase.

“I think staircases are one of the most important parts of a house because everyone comes up and down them,” she says.

In the Imus house, the staircase is wide and airy. The treads are pale white oak, with a rounded bannister and squared spindles painted white.

“It’s one of our favorite parts of the house,” Imus says. 


Maximize the views. In the Imus house, utilitarian spaces—a garage, laundry room, storage and elevator—are sited in places with the least access to the outdoors. Design space-saving furniture. Headboards with built-in outlets for electronics and lighting reduce the need for night stands. A bunk bed allows grandchildren to share a bedroom. Create interest through contrasting textures. In the kitchen, rattan stools are positioned under a softly shining stone countertop. A rustic wood door is a visual counterpoint to shimmering glass tiles on the backsplash. Let nature inspire your palette. Sea, sky and sand inspired a color scheme of foamy white, pale blue and muted taupe accented with deep sapphire and charcoal. Think of passageways as rooms. Add architectural elements such as wainscoting and moldings to corridors and staircases.

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