A home by the sea that’s always ready to welcome waves of guests

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Photos by Andre Chung

When your vacation home needs to be equally welcoming to a 30-person weekend reunion and to a retired couple seeking quiet beach days, a custom-designed home is more than a luxury, it’s a necessity.

“Ocean’s 11,” a home designed and built by Marnie Oursler, host of DIY Network’s “Big Beach Builds” and the chief executive of Marnie Custom Homes in Bethany Beach, Del., manages to be a peaceful retreat for two, as well as the place where the Eager family, including the retired patriarch and matriarch, their 11 children, along with spouses and partners, and 23 grandchildren gather for New Year’s Eve.

“The Eagers wanted as many bedrooms as possible, so there are six bedrooms, including a bunk room for kids and a bunk room for adults, two guest rooms, plus two master suites,” Oursler said. “Beach houses, especially this one, need to have lots of space for entertaining and lots of space for three generations to get together. They need rooms that work for toddlers to people in their 70s.”

Marnie Oursler is host of DIY Network’s “Big Beach Builds” and the chief executive of Marnie Custom Homes in Bethany Beach, Del.

Oursler, whose signature elements include built-in bunk beds and large kitchen islands that function as extra dining tables, designed this home with space for adults and kids to gather, as well as separate areas to accommodate the different activities that appeal to young children, college students and adults.

Five years ago, Ashburn, Va., residents Bill Eager, vice president of the dealer business unit at Carfax, and his wife, Katie Eager, who have four children ages 9 through 15, were thinking about buying a vacation home at the beach. About the same time, Bill’s father, a principal at St. Luke’s Catholic School in McLean and St. Anthony’s in the Brookland neighborhood of Washington, was retiring.

“It was always my parents’ dream to retire and live at the beach, but their budget meant that the closer they got to the beach, the smaller the house,” Bill said.

Most of the Eager siblings live in the Washington area or in Philadelphia, so Delaware’s Bethany Beach is convenient for the whole family. Bill and Katie agreed with his parents to finance and share a house on the ocean block in Bethany. The elder Eagers, who devote their time to prison ministry retreats and other volunteer work, split their time between the Bethany Beach house and an apartment in their oldest daughter’s home in Ashburn. The house they purchased in Bethany needed renovation.

“The location was great, close to the beach and a few blocks from town, but we found out that the flood laws meant we would lose the first floor of the house if we remodeled,” Bill said. “We went on a beach house tour to get some ideas, and the two houses we loved most had been built by Marnie.”

Oursler tries to make homes as comfortable and relaxing as possible, taking into consideration the way people spend their time on vacation.
The master bathroom.
Oursler tries to make homes as comfortable and relaxing as possible, taking into consideration the way people spend their time on vacation.

The Eagers deconstructed the original house and donated everything salvageable to Restore, a Habitat for Humanity project that sells home improvement items at a discount to support the nonprofit organization’s programs.

“We took the lead from a financial and design standpoint when we were building our house, but my parents’ handprint is on all the choices, and they use the house often,” Bill said.

The entire Eager clan held a contest to choose the name of their beach retreat, with suggestions kept by Bill Eager Sr. in a spiral notebook for a year while the family voted on the options. Ocean’s 11 refers to the house location and the 11 Eager siblings, as well as being a nod to the movies series of that name.

“One of the best things about this house is that the grandkids get to spend time with their grandparents,” Bill said. “My mom gets up at 5 in the morning and takes about 10 kids with her to watch the sunrise on the beach and walk to pick up doughnuts for breakfast.”

Most vacation home buyers want something in a different style from their permanent home, Oursler said.

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“The number one request is to have lots of windows to let in as much light as possible,” she said. “People also want an open floor plan so they can entertain easily and casually.”

Oursler tries to make homes as comfortable and relaxing as possible, taking into consideration the way people spend their time on vacation.

Oursler designed the home with space for adults and kids to gather. The Eager family includes 11 children and 23 grandchildren.

“I like to design homes that are a little more whimsical, with custom-built bunk beds, hidden doors and hidden shelves that are practical, yet fun,” Oursler said. “Since these are second homes, buyers are more willing to go with all-white or to use relaxing colors inspired by sea glass rather than traditional colors.”

Ocean’s 11, like many of Oursler’s designs, has an inverted floor plan, with the living areas and kitchen on the top floor to catch ocean views. The house has about 4,000 square feet on three levels.

“The upper floor, where everyone spends the most time, has a great room and an open kitchen, a screened porch and access to the roof deck,” Oursler said. “Even in houses without a view, an inverted floor plan gets the living areas closer to the sky and makes it feel more like a beach house.”

In addition to the roof deck, Ocean’s 11 has a patio, a fire pit, balconies and a screened porch for enjoying beach breezes.

“There are several decent-size areas where four or five people can go off to talk, and a TV on the big screened porch where we can watch Nationals’ games,” Bill said.

The upper level has cathedral ceilings to maximize light and space and a wood-burning fireplace with a storage space for wood.

“Bill’s dad loves the wood-burning fireplace,” Katie said. “They go to the beach every day when they’re here, whether it’s 30 degrees or 80 degrees, then come back and light the fireplace even if it’s not that cold.”

Bill’s mother especially loves the kitchen, because she used to cook for her household of 16, including children, grandparents and aunts, in a 2,000-square-foot house. This kitchen includes two large refrigerators, two dishwashers and a trough-style sink with double faucets.

“The kitchen has a mix of materials which gives it a very comfortable feeling,” Oursler said. “The counters are a mix of reclaimed wood and quartz; the backsplash is marble, and we used a zinc hood over the range.”

The massive kitchen island serves as a focal point for the family. The Eager family, from left: Carol and her husband, Bill; Annie, 13; Jack, 11; Cole, 9; Liam,15; Katie, Bill and his nephew Finn, 14.

Oursler designed the kitchen so that two or three cooks could work together, and with multiple seating and dining options to accommodate a crowd.

“We can seat more than a dozen people at the dining table and others at the island,” Katie said. “We’ve had more than 30 people at a time in the great room and dining area, and there’s still be enough room to move around and mingle.”

The elder Eagers’ bedroom is also on the upper level.

“The house has an elevator to the third floor, where Bill’s parents’ room is located, and you can see the ocean from the deck outside their room,” Katie said.

The house is designed for longevity and use by a variety of people. The elder Eagers’ bathroom has grab bars and a no-threshold shower for potential future needs and to accommodate family members or friends with special needs.

Rustic touches add warmth to the bedrooms, including old barn wood for a bedroom wall and shiplap for the sitting room on the bedroom level.

The middle level, where most of the bedrooms are, includes a sitting room for the kids with a large couch, board games and a big TV where they can watch movies or play video games.

Oursler’s signature elements include built-in bunk beds.

“The kids’ bunkroom has three sets of bunk beds, each with a full-size bed over a queen-size bed, so a lot of the cousins can sleep there at once,” Katie said.

Katie recently hosted a week’s vacation at the beach with 10 of their oldest son’s friends and some of their mothers.

“The kids spent the days on the beach and walked into town to go to the arcade or have lunch. then watched sports at night,” Katie said. “We have a huge Monopoly board on a table that gets used for hours every time we’re at the house.”

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Guests can enter the house on the middle level or, if they’re coming from the beach, use the lower level, which has a recreation room and laundry room.

The lower-level entrance, close to beach access, has outdoor showers, a place to prep beach coolers with a refrigerator and icemaker for drinks and snacks, cubbies for beach toys and towels, storage for beach chairs and a vinyl floor that looks like wood but is easy to vacuum to reduce the amount of sand that gets upstairs.

“One of the great things about working with Marnie is that customization didn’t end at the design phase,” Bill said. “She continually came up with ideas that make our lives easier. For instance, she shifted the place where we store boogie boards for the beach and added a hose bib nearby, something I never would have thought of doing. Her living at the beach herself helps her understand everyone’s needs.”

Bill and Katie Eager wanted a peaceful retreat for two, as well as the place where their extended family could gather.

The entire family has gathered for the Fourth of July and Memorial Day celebrations, as well as for a 5K run and a polar plunge at New Year’s. One of the Eager siblings hosted a golf weekend for 15 friends before his best friend’s wedding. The Eagers donated the house for a weekend for a charity auction, too.

“We share the house and use a Google calendar to keep track of who will be there,” said Bill, who tries to keep the house available for his siblings as much as possible. Two of his sisters are teachers in Philadelphia who use the house often in the summer with their families.

Bill says he hopes Ocean’s 11 will be in the Eager family for generations to come.

Credits: Story by Michele Lerner. Photos by Andre Chung. Designed by Dwuan June. Photo Editing by Thomas Simonetti.