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Right at Home: Touring Edition

By Nick Brandi, Photography by Grant L. Gursky

Summer is here, and that means it’s once again time for the Friends of the South Coastal Library Beach & Bay Cottage Tour. This year marks the 22nd annual outing, and event planners have made sure to maintain their tradition of excellence by serving up 10 more exceptional homes to the touring public. Covering a territory from North Bethany to Fenwick Island, both coastal and inland, visitors will be treated to a variety of sizes, styles and architecture that is sure to impress.

One such centerpiece on display during the two-day event is the home of area builder Marnie Oursler. Although all the homes on this year’s tour are objectively beautiful, Oursler has the distinction of being able to say that she actually designed and built the home she occupies on 5th Street in South Bethany. At 3,400 sq. ft. on three levels, the four-bedroom upscale-beach-cottage home seems bigger than it may appear at first glance. Its 35-year-old creator is a third-generation builder who was blessed with great instincts and outside-the-box thinking capability; as such, Oursler trusts herself to create a functionally beautiful living space from something other than a cookie-cutter floor plan or blueprint.

That Oursler likes things open and airy is evident in ways both obvious and subtle. Six-foot-high planked wainscoting elevates the hallways, while eight-foot Shaker-style doors may also be found. These touches are complemented yet offset by a collection of homey barn-style whitewashed doors in the home’s four bathrooms. The home office offers a vaulted ceiling that presides over a wooden drafting table lit by linen dream-shade hanging fixture. (If you take the tour, pay special attention to the home’s array of ceiling fixtures, which Oursler seems to use the way well-dressed men use neckties.) Rim locks with actual working skeleton keys (nice touch!) secure this and many other of the home’s doors, while the entire southern wall of the office is devoted to builder’s blueprints — except for a framed flashcard that reminds the young workaholic to “go outside and play.”

Unlike the home office’s vaulted ceiling, the great room shares an asymmetrical cathedral ceiling with the kitchen; it features a stately ledgestone fireplace bookended by a set of transomed windows with nine-piece trim detail and accented with two-by-fours, all ensconced within barn-style white wall planks. The room’s furnishings include a sofa and wicker chair from the Pottery Barn (which supplies much of the home’s furnishings, along with Creative Concepts in Sussex County) and two custom-designed chairs that boast beach-cozy pastel floral-print fabric that Oursler handpicked herself. The room’s look is complete with an authentic rail-cart coffee table in oak with wrought-iron latches at the corners and nail-head accent studs — compare this with the western oak wagon-wheel-inspired kitchen/dining-room table for thematic continuity — all over a soft but sturdy sisal area rug. Flooring throughout the house comes courtesy of random pine hardwood planks, in alternating widths of seven, eight and nine-and-a-half inches.

Whereas the great room is there exclusively for comfort and leisure, the utilitarian kitchen was conceived to multitask. Dominated by an enormous marble (that’s right, marble) center island, meal and food preparation are the space’s lowest priority according to its owner, despite the apropos decorator-white Shaker-style cabinetry and high-end stainless-steel Wolf appliances.
“I really don’t cook much,” Oursler admitted. “The center island is intended to serve more as a potential conversation area and as an alternative work station,” meaning that she often uses the island as a (really expensive) horizontal drafting table that ultimately plays host to many more blueprints and floor plans than it does fruits and vegetables.
There is also a media room, which offers the same nine-piece-trim transomed windows as the great room but is rendered somewhat more Bohemian-cosmopolitan thanks to the SoHo-esque brick wall and the amazing hotel-pendant English glass fixture dangling like a glittering globe from the ceiling.

There are many more décor and architectural treats to be had at the opulent beach house of Marnie Oursler, but to get the full impact you must take the tour. If you’re lucky and ask nicely, she may just show you her burgeoning collection of curved daggers from Asia.

The 22nd annual Beach & Bay Cottage Tour will be held Wednesday and Thursday, July 24 and July 25, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 a.m. Tickets are $30. For more information on the tour or the increasingly popular homeowners’ cocktail reception visit online at