By BARBARA BOWERS Special to the Citizen
he three-house compound at the dead end of Love Lane is an extension of the Roberts family, built over time behind their primary 1890s residence fronting William Street.
The closely built two-story conch houses lined up inside the block bound by 500 William and Elizabeth streets, 700 Southard and Fleming, their garden spaces and front porches intermingled as closely as do writers and guests at the Key West Literary Seminar -- the beneficiary of the compound's 1990s renovation by the late philanthropist Susan Mesker.
Accessed at the dead end of the narrows next to the library, these days 718 Love Lane is the literary seminar's office. Current Executive Director Miles Frieden lives part-time at 717, and 716 Love Lane is the home of incoming Executive Director Arlo Haskell and his wife, Ashley Kamen.
"The houses are on top of each other," Haskell said of the conjoined properties, "separate but equal."
All three structures embody the architectural essence and hidden charm of old Key West, in part because architect Bill Rowan applied minimal alteration to 716 during its rehab. Sure, it has central air conditioning, updated bathrooms and kitchen, but the footprint stayed in place, in part because there was nowhere to go.
Haskell and Kamen's two-bed/1.5-bath home retains a cozy front porch, much of its interior natural wood, exposed ceiling beams, the half-story attic converted to a master suite, and a covered rear-garden deck accessed via French doors in the living room and kitchen.
Custom-made wooden cabinets and a colorful kitchen mosaic by Lenny Addorisio mix local talent with the couple's creative international flair -- Haitian paintings and sequined flags from Haskell's days at the Haitian Art Gallery. Kamen's extensive travel is showcased in African chief stools and Indonesian artifacts; her working relationship to Archeo Gallery, visible in antique textiles and Gabbeh rugs made by Nomadic women in Iran.
The couple maximizes design space on all walls in every one of the four rooms; what's more, they go that extra step with bathroom art. Just as interesting as the artwork hanging on the stairs leading to the master suite, where a mural by the nationally known graffiti artist Momo enriches the bathroom's sliding-closet doors, the first floor's bathroom features an exciting African cultural artifact. Above the toilet hangs a carved granary door from Mali.
Kamen and Haskell will graciously open their home to the public on March 8 when the literary seminar's office is among The Studios of Key West's five-studio tour. Call 305-296-0458 for details, and watch for next week's Keys Homes article featuring artist David Schofield's house and studio, also on the tour.
Back on Love Lane, the first floor of the two-story house at 718 is decorated with the international panache of Kamen and Haskell's house at 716. Here, too, Gabbeh rugs line the floor, in particular a stylized lion paws the floor beneath Haskell's wooden desk as he toils over details for the upcoming 2015 literary seminar. But across the office, Haskell changes hats, even desks to an old Navy metal one, when he works on personal projects -- at the moment, a history of the Jewish community.
Since the first literary seminar in 1983, posters are archived in the office; most recently, the 2014 "Dark Side" poster signed by all the writers overlooks an antique Burmese actor's trunk, which is an April 2012 wedding gift from Kamen to Haskell.
This is Love Lane, after all, where you may maximize your time at this one-day-only open house by walking the compound grounds, soaking in the literary spirit of Key West, contemplating how families grow up and how household compounds inched across the island long ago, turning it into an urban landscape.
Bet you didn't know that Love Lane connects all the way through from Fleming to Southard streets. Ask about the mysterious garden door that opens to an easement.
Barbara Bowers is a Key West writer and host of a radio talk show about owning and maintaining property in the Florida Keys. To suggest a home to be featured in the Keys Homes section, send an email to email@example.com. Homes listed for sale may not be considered.