Premium design comes to the aquarium

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Stuck at home during the pandemic, many Americans have taken in dogs or cats. Others have embarked on a more elaborate hobby for pets: luxury aquariums for the home. Something halfway between home decor, entertainment, wildlife, and pet shelters, these custom aquariums can weigh over 75,000 pounds and cost up to $ 750,000 at the top.

“We have seen a tremendous boom in business,” said Nic Tiemens, of Infinity Aquarium Design in Los Angeles. He said demand had increased by around 400% since the start of the pandemic and was still strong. Customers who may have long wanted to splurge in a home aquarium were stuck at home and were finally ready to take the plunge, he said.

In a more typical day, he set up a high-end home aquarium every few months – now he does several aquariums each month. The company is fully booked until the third quarter of 2022. Some of these aquariums compete in size and scale with the facilities of public aquariums.

With many affluent Americans expanding or relocating, aquarium designers claim that a good portion of the demand comes from loyal customers who enhance their marine life’s home while also improving the human home that surrounds it. “Aquariums are getting bigger and bigger and homes are getting more expensive,” said Gerry Calabrese, founder and president of SeaVisions, a 40-year-old South Florida company that sets up aquariums around the world for individuals and businesses. He built domestic tanks as large as 5,000 gallons. “We have never been so busy,” he said.

An image provided shows Craig Atkins’ 1,500 gallon saltwater tank at his home in Newport Beach, California. Luxury home aquariums can now compete with public aquarium installations in size and scale, and they come with steep prices. (Infinity Aquarium Design via The New York Times)

Craig Atkins, a real estate developer from Newport Beach, Calif., Hired Tiemens to design and install a 1,500 gallon tank in the living room of his home on Lido Isle, a man-made island off Newport Beach Harbor. Atkins, an avid scuba and snorkeler who said he taught his two children to dive when he was 5, wanted to bring the feel of the sea to his home. “We’re fish geeks,” he said.

In his previous home, he had a custom tank 11 feet long – the width of a full-size sectional sofa. For his new house, he wanted to expand. Its saltwater tank is 15 feet wide – the length of the largest piece of seamless acrylic that was readily available. Tiemens said it was large enough that the living room tank could be seen the length of a football field through the glazed glass exterior of the house. “I like to say it’s in the heart of Newport Beach,” Tiemens said.

Adapting the tank to an existing house was a challenge. “I bought this house on a whim because it’s on a corner lot on an island,” Atkins said. “Then it was like, ‘How do we set up a tank? ” ” It was not easy. Atkins said the crew slept at home for a few nights, spending sleepless nights getting the tank installed on time.

First, a contractor had to install steel reinforcement in the floors to support the 20,000 pounds of weight – the water is heavy. Then they redeveloped a basement originally used as a wine cabinet into a filtration room with a capacity of about 300 gallons. From there, the salt water is filtered and pumped through six different pipes integrated into the soils. Outside there is another 400 gallon tank for water changes. The setup ensures that the tank runs silently in the living room.

The tank is filled with synthetic coral and a colorful mix of tropical fish such as angel queens, parrot fish and cowfish. “It’s like living art,” said Atkins, who said he enjoys feeding fish himself.. (They eat sushi-grade seaweed, shrimp, and krill.) Atkins said he spent about $ 125,000 on the aquarium and accompanying equipment.

The initial installation and setup is only part of what aquarium owners can expect to pay. The fish themselves can cost hundreds of dollars each or more (at the top, a masked angelfish can cost up to $ 15,000). And high-end companies say customers can pay up to $ 5,000 per month for weekly cleaning and maintenance. Tiemens, of Infinity, said a rule of thumb is to calculate $ 2 per gallon per month for maintenance, although this can vary widely depending on the type of food and medication the fish might need. (The drugs come in liquid form and are typically used in quarantine tanks to prevent disease.)

Brad Barton, an emergency room doctor in Orange, Texas, installed a custom-made tank in his new home, which was completed about six months ago. Barton said the house, which overlooks a large man-made pond on the Texas-Louisiana border, was designed around two elements: views of the water and its aquarium.

Barton has stated that he has been a lover of marine life since he was a child. By the time he was in college, he had a 125 gallon tank, which he got for free after finding it dumped in a chemistry lab. When it came time to build the tank of his dreams for his current home, he wanted something unique and custom-built to fit the space. He hired SeaVisions to design a 1,000-gallon two-sided saltwater aquarium that would replace one of his living room arches.

His fish, he said, have formed relationships with unique and fascinating personalities to watch. There is an anemonefish that feeds and plays with the sea anemone. And a leopard wrasse that goes to bed like clockwork at 7:35 pm and wakes up exactly 12 hours later. “If you think of it like a lava lamp it’s like that multiplied by 10,000,” said Barton, who declined to say what he spent on the tank, other than saying it was “a lot. “and” I could have a really cool car for the same price.

Because Barton lives in a remote area, he has yet to find a company that can regularly maintain a tank like his. daily monitoring and about 30 minutes every two weeks for cleaning.

The boom in demand for high-end aquariums has coincided with a shortage of key aquarium building materials such as acrylic, Tiemens said. Grocery stores, restaurants, salons and many other businesses around the world were using acrylic in massive amounts for sneeze guards during the height of the COVID crisis. Calabrese said the worst of the delays have passed, but supplies in general are still backed up. The time it takes to build an aquarium has doubled from around three months to six months, he said.

luxury aquarium An image provided shows a private freshwater aquarium designed by Los Angeles-based Infinity Aquarium Design. Luxury home aquariums can now compete with public aquarium installations in size and scale, and they come with steep prices. (Infinity Aquarium Design via The New York Times)

The supply of fish has also become a challenge. Some remote tropical islands have cut or restricted trade, Calabrese said, making it difficult to access some tropical fish. Yellow flavors, the staple of the brightly colored saltwater aquariums that originated in Hawaii, have skyrocketed and become much harder to find, he said. (They can now cost over $ 500 each, down from less than $ 100.) More and more aquaculture farms are sprouting up to sustainably breed some popular fish, but not all species can be bred.

Keith Poliakoff, an attorney in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, recently built a 550-gallon tank in a den area of ​​his home – an upgrade to the 150-gallon tank in his previous home. Its saltwater aquarium contains living coral, which Poliakoff says is laborious and expensive to grow and maintain, but also rewarding. (He buys captive-grown coral.) Poliakoff puts together small fragments, which eventually grow together to form a larger coral – a process that can take years. He selected reef-safe fish, including clownfish, which do not eat or hinder coral growth.

“Being able to have an aquarium where you can learn how to grow corals and how to thrive and succeed in a protected environment,” he said, “it helps others appreciate the beauty of coral and marine life. . “

The tank, designed by SeaVisions, forms the wall behind a bar area.

For those looking to set up or build an aquarium in a new home, the process ideally starts early. Tiemens recently accompanied a couple and their broker on their home search in Los Angeles.

The couple wanted a home with a living room that could accommodate a 1,500 gallon tank. They ended up finding a house with an ideal tank layout, with a bedroom and bathroom that they have since converted to aquarium filtration operations and a separate quarantine tank. He and his team used a forklift to get the aquarium into the house, then built the custom cabinets around it.

Putting a high-end tank in a skyscraper adds additional complexity. Justin Muir, owner and lead designer of the City Aquarium in New York City, said additional structural supports, such as steel plates to reinforce the floors below, are a must. But it can add tens of thousands of dollars to the cost. The rules of the condominium and co-op board of directors often dictate the size of a client. Still, he said it’s possible to build a fairly large aquarium – 300 to 500 gallons, or 6 to 8 feet long – in many taller buildings.

During the pandemic, her business moved to suburban homes after many of her Manhattan customers moved to Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut. But he also has new clients. “If you’re going to be stuck at home at work,” he said, “then this is definitely the best time to start an aquarium.”

Technological advances in recent years have made maintenance easier and more precise. Calabrese said it remotely monitored many customers’ aquariums and received alerts when pH levels or temperatures were turned off.

The downside, Calabrese said, is that he’s still active. “They’ll email me at 10 p.m. on Saturday saying, ‘A fish got stuck behind a rock and it can’t get out! “”, did he declare. “People are panicking. But fish like to hide.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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