Len Homentowski was a tough man, a U.S. Army master sergeant who liked his cigars, and made it home from overseas after World War II to work in the Sears shipping department and raise a family.

But his family with his wife, Ann, turned out to be four daughters - Diane, Nancy, Clare and Karen. And that helps explain a hobby that Homentowski, who lived almost 30 years in Brigantine and died last month at 97, enjoyed for decades.

He loved making intricately detailed dollhouse furniture - no matter how odd that might sound for a guy with his history.

And these weren't generic chairs and tables for dolls named Barbie or Ken. Lots of what he built was custom-made for people named Homentowski.

"Some of the pieces were replicas of furniture we had in our own house," said Karen Martin, 53, of Port Republic, the youngest daughter.

His girls marvel at the touches in their dad's work. He made a baby grand piano - not something found in the Homentowski's old Philadelphia home - just 3 inches high with the top down. But it was made for the top to stay open, to show off the piano's tiny gold strings.

"I have a ... roll-top desk, and if I took a picture of it on the carpet, you'd be hard pressed to know you weren't looking at a full-sized piece of furniture," said the oldest daughter, Diane Hale, 66, of Bloomsburg, Pa. "He had ... the rolling top, all the little cubbyholes, the little hardware."

It wasn't until his girls started having their own kids that Homentowski got into dollhouse furniture. Hale asked him to make a basic playhouse "for those little Fisher-Price people," for her two oldest kids, now 44 and 42.

But her dad didn't do things halfway, and the dollhouse he gave her "had siding, shingles, shutters, and I'm thinking, 'I can't let the kids bang around in this.' ... I still have it today."

When he started making those elaborate little houses, it even stirred up a little family trouble. His second daughter, Nancy Kirchgasser, 63, of Downingtown, Pa., didn't get one at first, because she didn't have any girls.

"I said, 'Just because I have a boy doesn't mean I don't get a dollhouse,'" Kirchgasser remembered, laughing. "And I wasn't willing to have another kid just to get a dollhouse."

She got her little house, and all the grandchildren - and now great grandchildren - got lots of tiny furniture over the years. Homentowski fixed it if the kids broke it: His girls say he could fix or build almost anything, of any size, in his workshop refuge.

"He was active until a few weeks before death, walking around, smoking his cigars," said Martin, his daughter. "He was retired almost 40 years ... and he got to do what he loved in retirement."

Contact Martin DeAngelis:

609-272-7237