Luxury Behind Glass

Increasingly, custom aquariums are amenities in demand by luxury homeowners, pushing specialists to create spectacular showcases.

Photo © 2016 Nickolas Sargent All Rights Reserved

Observing decorative tropical fish shimmering through an artificial aquatic habitat can be mesmerizing, but new innovations and elaborate designs have made aquarium industry specialists an essential resource for luxury residential design. A new breed of aquarists is using unbridled imagination and advanced technologies to create larger and more audacious tanks for the home.

Reality television series like Tanked on Animal Planet and Fish Tank Kings on Nat Geo Wild introduce viewers to the incredible possibilities of aquarium design, resulting in focal points that can transform a room into a magical space. High-end aquarists can now be found in every major city and ambitious tanks can be engineered for virtually any residential environment.

Photo courtesy of Infinity Aquarium Design

Nic Tiemens, co-founder of Los Angeles-based Infinity Aquarium Design, reports, “The installations we’re doing today in high-end residences are more elaborate, both aesthetically and functionally, than those in most public aquariums.” Tiemens’ first taste of the business, as a young minimum-wage employee in Chicago, was the installation of two massive tanks at NBA superstar Michael Jordan’s house. When he and his business partner founded Infinity in 2004, they viewed L.A. as a natural home base, and the firm was featured on HGTV’s Ultimate Aquariums, one of the public’s earliest glimpses into this intriguing specialty. “We’ve branded ourselves as the firm where creativity meets the science of aquariums,” explains the passionate entrepreneur.

Tiemens suggests that homeowners’ increased reliance on interior designers has boosted the residential aquarium business, as those ambitious professionals are constantly looking to enhance spaces with unique water features. Celebrity-favored L.A. interior designer Adam Hunter, who collaborates with Infinity in his luxury residential practice, reports, “Aquariums offer such dramatic appeal to any interior because they can instantly become a beautiful focal point, art piece or topic of conversation.”

Hunter believes aquariums work equally well in both traditional and modern architectural contexts, and the endless options of aquatic environments and species allow designers and aquarists to accommodate virtually any situation. “When you spend hundreds of hours paying attention to every last detail that makes an interior perfect, having an organic, living backdrop provides the ideal contrast to such a structured and scrutinized design,” he explains.

Double-sided tanks are popular and at a Hawaiian-inspired Malibu retreat, Infinity completed a stunning indoor-outdoor poolside aquarium. “From the basement, you can look through the aquarium into the swimming pool, beyond the bluff and out into the ocean,” Tiemens explains of the $80,000 project.

Although nearly 90 percent of the company’s projects are saltwater tanks, Tiemens has observed a sharp uptick in requests for live plant freshwater aquariums as clients become more conscious of sustainability. The company recently completed the largest freshwater planted aquarium in a private U.S. residence for a homeowner aspiring to recreate the work of renowned Japanese aquarist and photographer Takashi Amano.

Photo © 2016 Nickolas Sargent All Rights Reserved

Reef Aquaria Design (RAD), located in South Florida, also caters to a demanding luxury residential clientele. Operations Manager J.R. Corvison agrees that public aquariums and a heightened environmental consciousness of the oceans have fueled interest, and states some of RAD’s high-end installations cost more than most people pay for a home. “Those with the means have the ability to commission a piece of dynamic living art showcasing the ocean’s splendor right in their own home,” says Corvison.  He reports client enthusiasm for jellyfish aquariums, especially in homes with sleek, modern architecture, as well as burgeoning interest in the aquaculture of fish and live corals.

The stars of Tanked, brothers-in-law Brett Raymer and Wayde King, are the owners of Las Vegas-based Acrylic Tank Manufacturing (ATM). Since their show debuted in 2011, the pair has created over-the-top aquariums for actors Neil Patrick Harris and David Hasselhoff, magicians Penn & Teller, and professional athletes Marshawn Lynch, Dwayne Wade and Shaquille O’Neill.

Photo courtesy of Infinity Aquarium Design.

“The popularity of public aquariums has grown over the years, giving people more opportunities to see exotic species, and everybody’s intrigued by fish,” says Raymer, who suggests the ability to maintain live corals and reefs accounts for the popularity of saltwater tanks. “The tanks are educational, soothing and relaxing to look at,” says the enthusiastic King of the hobby’s universal allure, adding, “The colors of fish are incredibly appealing and they all have their own personalities.”

Raymer reports that while it may scratch easier than glass, acrylic has become the state-of-the-art material for extravagant designs because of its ability to be bent and shaped. ATM’s design and installation process begins with an interview of the customer, whether a celebrity or suburban hobbyist. “First we find out what the client has in mind, then turn it over to our artist to create a rendering. Once we get the client’s approval, we go from there,” explains Raymer.

One of the company’s more outrageous projects, scheduled to appear on Tanked later this year, features the third appearance of comedian Tracy Morgan, whose pool house in posh Alpine, New Jersey, will be transformed into a massive 16,000-gallon shark tank designed by ATM. King explains sufficient space, structural soundness and a willingness to take care of the habitat (in addition to capital, of course) are the only limitations to ever-more-elaborate aquariums. ATM’s largest project was a $4.5 million aquarium for a megachurch in Texas, and an upcoming 70,000-gallon project in California will be the largest tank ever installed in a private residence.

Photos courtesy of Infinity Aquarium Design.

Jay Silber, a partner at Lakewood, New Jersey’s Aqua Creations — which serves metro New York City and beyond — reports affluent clients love the soothing effects of aquariums, while other owners are attracted to the feng shui benefits of having water and fish in a home. “One very wealthy client, he’s a big player whose home has a media room, disco room and everything you could ask for, tells me, ‘Jay, when I entertain, the first place everybody goes is to the tank!’”

Silber reports, “We build aquariums from $20,000 to $100,000, depending on how crazy you want to go, but we concentrate on creating a really interesting environment.” He insists the best installation practice is from the ground up, working with architects and builders to engineer the tank, accommodate proper plumbing and allocate sufficient space for an equipment room.

Compatibility, color and movement are the critical considerations when selecting the assortment of fish, according to Tiemens. “We try to create an underwater display that’s realistic and offers an environment that’s natural for the respective species, one in which every color of the rainbow is presented and where you’re constantly seeing different fish,” he says.

Photo courtesy of Life Aquariums.

Brett Raymer of ATM cautions homeowners, “You need to remember these are live animals … they’re pets, not just decoration, so you can’t just get it set up and forget about it.” He therefore advises clients to enter into a maintenance contract with a reputable company like ATM to ensure proper care. These days, advanced technology allows owners or aquarists to monitor water quality and manipulate pumps from anywhere in the world with the touch of a smartphone.

Acrylic Tank Manufacturing Las Vegas

Aqua Creations Lakewood, NJ

Reef Aquaria Design Coconut Creek, FL

Adam Hunter, Inc. Los Angeles

Infinity Aquarium Design Los Angeles