Under-40 Executive Corner: Eye for Design

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Marnie Oursler, president of Marnie Custom Homes, Bethany Beach, Del., shares how she uses her family history in home building and American-made materials to bring her designs to life.

December 12, 2014

Marnie Oursler is from a builder family. Her father Marvin is a co-founder of Marrick Homes in Maryland and, as a teen, she spent weekends and summers tying rebar and sweeping houses. After the Division 1 softball player graduated from college, she sold real estate and moved to the Delaware shore. Eventually she saved enough money to buy a Bethany Beach  house, renovate it, and flip it. With the proceeds she bought land and built her own house. Residents admired Oursler’s eye for design and approached her about doing their projects. So she started a company in 2007 and since then built Delaware’s first LEED-certified home, and, after finishing a house with almost 95-percent domestically sourced material, partnered with building supplier 84 Lumber as a spokeswoman for the We Build American campaign. She earned an MBA from Duke University in December and this year aims to close in on $10 million in revenue from  seven custom-built homes. 
 
Q: How did you develop your sense of design?
 
A: I developed my sense of design from both parents. As a child I was in the field a lot, so I grew up in construction and saw houses from foundation to finish. Then I also would go with my mom to met the interior designers and decorators because she was in charge of the model homes. So I received both ends of it, where I would see framing and then dry wall, paint, and what’s happening on the finish end. I think it was an organic way I was exposed to all that, and I really enjoyed it.
 
Q: How do you get your ideas?

A I get a lot of publications so I’m constantly reading and looking at the different trends, and then just doing unique trends in the houses. I put in a barn door five years ago in my house. I’d never seen one before in a home, but I tried it and never thought anything of it because I didn’t think people would want to do that. Now I’m doing three or four houses with these sliding doors. I think I have a natural interest in design and the functionality of it.
 
Q: In your efforts to promote American-made materials, what impediments do you encounter when building predominantly with domestically produced products?

A: The largest obstacle is sourcing materials and products. Making sure it’s financially viable is also a large concern because you don’t want to outprice yourself with your competition. You really have to prepare ahead of time for the volume and the accessibility, as you would for any raw material that you couldn’t get easily from a lumber yard or a warehouse. Preplanning is key. Plan where you are going to source those materials and make sure those suppliers have enough volume to satisfy your needs.
 
Q: What do you intend to do with your MBA degree?

A: I wanted to get my MBA just to get a broader perspective and grow intellectually and connect with a diverse network of peers. That’s why I did the Cross Continent MBA program at Duke, which enabled me to see the world. On a local level, I definitely want to work with students here to provide opportunities in the work force. Not everyone is cut out for college. I’d like to develop an apprenticeship program here working with the local community college and high schools for students interested in construction and who are more kinetic learners where they need to do rather than listen and read. That’s how I am. I never liked school because I didn’t like being inside all day. So I want to foster talent here because I think it’s important, particularly for students who don’t necessarily want to be in the classroom but want to design, create, and make a living from that talent. PB

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