As the star of DIY Network’s “Big Beach Builds” show and CEO of a custom-home building company, Marnie Oursler helps others achieve the modern yet welcoming getaways of their dreams. So it’s no surprise the builder’s own year-round residence in Bethany Beach, Delaware, sits squarely at the intersection of high function and coastal charm.
Christened “Dream Catcher,” the four-story abode—one block off the ocean—is the fourth bespoke home Oursler has crafted for herself. Each one has brought her closer to the shore and her ultimate vision. “I’ve always wanted to see the ocean from my bedroom,” she reveals. “You learn from every house.”
The opportunities have been ample. When Oursler is not renovating beach cottages for her television series, she’s designing and constructing waterfront retreats through Marnie Custom Homes. She also co-hosted “HGTV Dream Home 2018,” a show that aired in January; it featured the transformation of a waterfront abode on the Puget Sound that she also helped renovate. Still, her present 6,300-square-foot roost remains a proud accomplishment. “I use this house as a model and bring my clients through it,” says the builder.
She designed the layout and specified all the interior architecture. “A lot of thought goes into traffic patterns, how you’re going to use the rooms,” explains Oursler, who lives alone but welcomes frequent guests to her beach house. “I have friends and family here all the time. There are people constantly coming in and out.”
An inverted floor plan capitalizes on the views, with guest suites on the second level, a great room on the third and a fourth-floor master suite. The entry level boasts a spacious foyer and game room. The kitchen—a collaboration with Jennifer Gilmer of Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen & Bath—features a glass-mosaic backsplash that evokes the azure sea.
Oursler decorated the house herself, painting the walls in sandy hues that combine with natural materials—from the great room’s natural-stone fireplace to the master bedroom’s reclaimed-wood accent wall—for added warmth and texture. A whitewash over both elements softens the effect. As Oursler notes, “The colors in the house are the same colors you see when you walk over the dunes.”
As a fifth-generation builder, Oursler comes by her construction know-how naturally. The Fairfax, Virginia, native grew up working on job sites alongside her father, Marvin Oursler (often seen extending sage advice on her TV show). “I’d pick up trash, sweep houses, eat lunch on an upside-down drywall bucket,” she recalls. “It was miserable. But that’s how I learned the business.”
She entered it by a circuitous route, however, starting at the U.S. Naval Academy, then transferring to East Carolina University to study education and information technology. She moved to Bethany Beach after her 2001 graduation and landed a tech-support position in a real-estate office.
Oursler soon purchased a fixer-upper, renovated it herself and flipped it. Her next move: building her first house (she was selling vacation homes by then, but ready for a change). When her craftsmanship impressed a local couple looking to build anew, Oursler bid on the project. “I got the job,” she recounts, laughing. “Then I realized, ‘Shoot, now I’ve got to start a company.’”
So in 2007, the petite novice joined a male-dominated industry, unfazed. “I’m clearly not as strong as most men in the field, but I have a work ethic you can’t compare,” says Oursler, sporting an orchid-pink sweater and jeans. Today, she designs conceptual plans for clients, creates blueprints, then works with a local architect to execute her plans. She is famous for her coastal style: Her open plans are functional and modern with a vintage, beachy vibe.
Oursler earned an MBA at Duke in 2013. After watching her accept a Gold Stevie Entrepreneur of the Year award for women in business that same year, a TV producer offered her, in his words, “a feel-good show,” on DIY Network. Soon after, “Big Beach Builds” was launched.
On each episode, the camera follows Oursler recasts an outdated cottage near Delaware’s coastline into a modern escape while preserving its vintage character. Season 2 debuted in early April.
Oursler pays her success forward by selling Marnie Custom Homes merchandise through her website and donating the profits to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, among other charities. “It’s a nice way to give back,” she maintains. During her downtime, she entertains a wide circle with ease. “We grill seafood and sit on the porch,” she says. “You get the breeze right off the ocean.”
Interior Architecture, Design & Contracting: Marnie Oursler, Marnie Custom Homes, Bethany Beach, Delaware. Kitchen Design: Jennifer Gilmer, CKD, and Meghan Browne, Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen & Bath, Ltd., Chevy Chase, Maryland.