SPRING HILL — Tom and Maria Nemesi work in miniature but produce in grandiosity.
And the beneficiary often is a charitable organization.
With 35 years of building and furnishing unique dollhouses, the couple's latest creation, a three-story clapboard Victorian, is being raffled to benefit the Enrichment Centers at Brooksville Regional and Spring Hill Regional hospitals and the mining association center in Brooksville.
While the Enrichment Centers have received financial donations of greater value, said director Deborah Druzbick, "we've had nothing that has been such a labor of love."
The dollhouse, on display at the center adjacent to Brooksville Regional, took five months to make. The Nemesis turned down a $3,600 offer for it in order to donate it to the Enrichment Centers.
Tom Nemesi, 67, said he worked on it every day. Maria Nemesi said she labored on and off, as she was inspired.
Tom does the roughing out, wood cutting and assembly, following his wife's original blueprint, which is copyrighted. Fixtures, wall and floor coverings, other decor, furnishings and accouterments are the work of Maria, 66.
"I bring it to life," she said.
This particular dollhouse is named the Elizabeth.
"She was my imaginary friend when I was a kid," Maria explained, "my beloved Elizabeth."
From Maria's vivid imagination, and her lifelong delight in all things miniature, she has "dressed" the house as her friend would: tiny pink and white flowers in the window boxes, white shutters against the red clapboard, a mailbox by the front door, in the door lock a tiny gold key.
Inside, there are lace curtains throughout; a staircase with a glossy banister from first to third floors; a living room with overstuffed, chintz-covered furniture; a white-blooming African violet on the coffee table; a red-tiled kitchen with a sideboard holding bowls of fruit and a platter of bread sticks; a nursery room upstairs with canopied crib; patterned peach wallpaper in the little girl's bedroom, and a bath so complete it includes a gold-toned toilet paper holder, a toilet brush, a back scrubber on the bathtub edge, golden spigots and doll-sized towels.
In the living room, a young girl arranges the minutest of furniture in a dollhouse within the dollhouse.
While Tom established each room's walls to the appropriate size and scale, 1 inch per foot, the toy house within the dollhouse was constructed on a scale of one-144th inch — no small undertaking, so to speak.
The furniture frames are mostly from thin, pre-pressed wood platelets, punched out and glued together.
"I have glue, all kinds," said Maria, "plastic, fabric, beads, wood."
Varnishing the furniture with a fine brush comes next.
Upholstery, tablecloths and coverlets are cut from fabric.
And the Nemesis are experienced scroungers. For instance, side tables originally were those little plastic three-legged risers used in pizza boxes. Plant urns are single-serve coffee creamer containers. Buttons are converted to food dishes. Green florist tape is fashioned into plant foliage.
In another find, the couple, leaving a supermarket, passed a gumball machine containing little toys encased in two-piece plastic spheres. A child had left one of the spheres on the floor.
Maria paused, then said to Tom: "Give me a quarter."
She asked for two more before Tom said, "I'm out of quarters."
Back home, Maria painted and beaded each half of the spheres into ceiling light globes.
Of course, some items must be purchased, such as faucets for bathrooms and kitchens, flooring, furniture frames, windows, doors, siding, shingles, tiny telephones, beads for decoration and family figures.
In a young girl's eyes, Maria says, a family must include parents, a little girl and an infant, the couple's experience has taught them.
"The baby must have a bottle," she adds. That's another purchase.
At shopping time, the go-to place is Ron's Miniature Shop in Orlando. Owner Ron Mummert, aware that these good customers build their dollhouses for charities, affords them discounts and even gives them some items.
In all their years of building, the Nemesis have sold only one of their dollhouses, a commissioned home look-alike that brought nagging intrusions from the buyer, then complaints. Never again, the Nemesis decided.
The couple confirmed Druzbick's assessment of the Elizabeth as a labor of love. "I do it because I love it," said Maria.
Said her husband: "I just like to see a little girl happy."
The Nemesis have donated dollhouses to four leukemia societies and a hospital in their native Rhode Island. Since the couple moved to Hernando County in 1995, they have given their works of art — "We are the artists," Maria says — for fundraisers by the Jerome Brown Community Center, the Dawn Center and now the Enrichment Centers.
Druzbick said the Enrichment Centers raffle has no monetary goal, though "we would like to surpass that $3,600 offer."
Tickets are $5 each. The winning ticket will be drawn Dec. 6 at the Enrichment Centers annual holiday party.
Said Maria: "Some father who can't afford something for his daughter for under the Christmas tree, he should win it."
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.