Cristal's Blog

The Luxury Home Aquarium: Out of This World Amenity for Your Pad

October 28, 2021

Back to Articles


Cropped from LizWinfreyV, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

You’ve probably heard about the Pandemic Pet phenomenon. (You know, the dogs and cats people brought home to keep them company during the COVID-19 lockdown?) Well, turns out Americans took in more than just dogs and cats to keep them company while being stuck at home. Some high-end homeowners took up a more elaborate pet hobby: the luxury home aquarium. Think home décor, entertainment, wildlife, and pet shelter combined. These custom aquariums can weigh more than 75,000 pounds and cost as much as $750,000 at the top end.

READ: Timeless Interior Design Trends

“We’ve seen a tremendous boom in business,” Nic Tiemens, of Infinity Aquarium Design in Los Angeles told the New York Times. And he’s seen the demand that began during the early days of the lockdown continue to skyrocket today. In fact, the business has grown by about 400% since the start of the pandemic and is still going strong. Turns out many homeowners finally took the plunge on something they’d considered in the past.

In a typical year, Tiemens told the paper he installed one luxury home aquarium every few months. Today, he sets up multiple high-end tanks every month. Some of these aquariums rival installations at public institutions in size and scale -- like the one featured in this private tour of a massive one inside a home in the UK. His company, like many others, even here in Santa Barbara, is fully booked into the third quarter of 2022.

Sourcing Rare Fish

With the rising popularity of luxury home aquariums, sourcing fish has become a challenge. Some remote tropical islands have cut off or have limited trade, making some tropical fish difficult to come by. Yellow tangs, the brightly colored saltwater aquarium staple native to Hawaii, have shot up in price and gotten much harder to find. They now can cost more than $500 each, up from less than $100. Even without the current sourcing issues, having incredibly beautiful and rare fish in your luxury tank can be very expensive.

READ: Creating a Dog-friendly Home?

More aquaculture farms are cropping up to sustainably grow popular fish varieties, but not every species can be bred. Take the exquisite Platinum Arowana, for example. One of these costs about $400,000.

Caring for these fish is no simple task. And it can cost as much as $5,000 a month for weekly cleanings and maintenance. A loose rule of thumb is to figure in $2 per gallon per month for maintenance, though it can vary widely based on the type of food and medication the fish might require. But you don’t need to feel overwhelmed about caring for your aquatic pets all by yourself. The good news is that technological advances in recent years have made maintenance easier and more precise. Today, fish lovers can hire a company to remotely monitor their aquariums 24/7. These maintenance companies do it all; such as gathering some information remotely, like receiving alerts when pH levels or temperatures are off.

READ: Today’s Top Luxury Real Estate Trends

However, don’t expect to be naming your new aquatic pets quickly. Due to a shortage of building materials, these luxury home aquariums can take a long time to install. In fact, the time it takes to build an aquarium has doubled, from roughly three months to six months.

More Than Mere Design Elements

Studies going back as far as the late 1980s have shown that gazing at aquarium fish reduces stress and subsequently lowers blood pressure. Watching them can also improve your mood. So, it’s little wonder that, according to the National Pet Owners Survey, fish have taken the third most popular spot for pets in U.S. households, following dogs and cats.

When it comes to seniors, research proves that the presence of a home aquarium helps to reduce blood pressure. Indeed, when compared, the presence of a fish tank that contains living fish produces a greater reduction in blood pressure than fishless tanks or those containing artificial creatures, such as synthetic jellyfish.

Jellyfish in a large salt water aquarium.

Interestingly, the more species that the aquarium contains, the more relaxing the experience for observers, resulting in significant drops in blood pressure and heart rates.

Aesthetics aside, studies show that gazing at an aquarium, like meditation, offers real health benefits. In fact, one study found that 67% of those who keep fish as a hobby report that the simple act of watching their pets helps to relieve stress and improve their mood. Even more, research shows people who spend their time watching aquariums and fish tanks enjoy the benefits of enhanced physical and mental wellbeing.

Luxury Home Aquariums in Montecito

Since the indoor-outdoor lifestyle is so popular here in Santa Barbara, these living nature-based art experiences add the perfect touch to any Montecito estate. Architects and interior designers are going to great lengths, and depths, to create these high-style living landscapes. Each luxury home aquarium is carefully curated to create unique art experiences that are both engaging and constantly evolving.

READ: Santa Barbara Landscape Design: Complementing Your Home’s Architecture

Fresh Water vs Saltwater Aquariums

Homeowners can choose or invent their own one-of-a-kind luxury home aquarium made in glass or acrylic. They can be made in all sizes and shapes, so let your imagination run wild. Some prefer minimalist sea-scene sculptures with a variety of colorful fish floating amid driftwood, rocks, and sand. Others opt for more elaborate living-reef tanks that recreate natural ecosystems complete with corals, crabs, clams and sea cucumbers. 

Reef aquariums are saltwater ecosystems focusing on corals and invertebrates along with fish. Bright lighting and natural decor are used to provide the right environment for the livestock. Clients looking for diversity, color, and a natural look prefer reef aquariums.

“The reefs are live, living marine gardens inside your home, with the corals constantly growing and moving, ensuring that the visual spectacle is constantly evolving,” says James Bruce, managing director of Sanderia Group for Hong Kong-based RedFin Aquarium Design, a company that focuses on the design, installation and maintenance of bespoke luxury aquariums. Although they are based in the Hong Kong and Macau region, RedFin can ship and install their custom fish tanks worldwide, even here in Montecito.

Homeowners can also choose freshwater aquariums. These diverse systems are less complicated in design than saltwater. If a lush green look is preferred, a freshwater planted aquarium is the best way to go. It is common to find the easy to care for Guppy, the bright and active Platy Fish and the popular Zebrafish, along with Minnows, Corys and Cherry Barbs.

A green beautiful planted tropical freshwater aquarium with fishes

Living Art

Whichever you choose, these amped-up living art pieces can be created as freestanding furniture, structural sculptures, or clever custom wall units. Whatever look you decide upon, your tank will become an integral part of your home’s architecture and home décor, providing an entertainment feature like no other. 

According to Bruce, some of the more extravagant and larger residences place aquariums in dedicated entertainment zones. “From palaces with tanks only containing carnivorous predator fish, to in-house nightclubs with jellyfish tanks illuminated in fluorescent blue lighting, I’ve seen it all,” Bruce says.

While the majority of customers install aquariums as showcases in public rooms of their home, like the great room, others request to have them installed in more mundane spaces, like the bathroom or the master bedroom. 

READ: Around the World Ideas for Santa Barbara Gardens

Aquarium Science

Aesthetics aside, new technology allows designers to create practically any shape and size a homeowner can dream up. Most orders for large luxury home aquariums come from the Middle East and Asia, but their popularity is growing right here in California. That means you can set the trend here in Montecito should you decide to create one for your home.

Locally, Aquarium Science provides installation and maintenance for Santa Barbara County. Owner Craig Gutshall has been in the industry for more than ten years, with expertise in all types of aquaria. Specializing in custom aquariums, Aquarium Science works with Montecito homeowners to create an original aquarium catering to any expectation.

READ: The Feng Shui House: Creating Balance and Flow in Your Santa Barbara Home

Although most luxury home aquarium buyers focus on looks, a fair number are equally interested in the living elements that will go in them. Keeping the fish and plants alive can be challenging, which is why some custom aquarium companies offer freshwater options that have the look of saltwater aquascapes.

“We care about the future of the hobby and will only buy from suppliers that have the highest quality of livestock,” explains Gutshall. “We will not support companies that provide substandard conditions for their livestock, or collectors that are not environmentally conscious. Our aquaculture animals have no impact on wild populations.”

Photo of a coral colony on a reef inside a home saltwater aquarium

Where to install your luxury home aquarium

Many affluent marine lovers go above and beyond a standard fish tank setup. These tanks can turn any room into a tranquil underwater retreat. And some owners add multiple aquariums throughout their home.

A living room, or great room, is the most popular place you’ll find these living works of art. But there’s nothing quite like adding one to your foyer to make your grand entrance a memorable one. Online you’ll find pictures of impressive tanks in wine rooms, dining rooms, home theaters and bedrooms. How about a fish tank as the ultimate kitchen backsplash? You can even find them poolside in living outdoor walls. And some can even accommodate human divers! Imagine having a mermaid swim by at your next dinner party?

These luxury units can also be added above your fireplace mantel, under your staircase, as a headboard, or even integrated in furniture. Think shelving, kitchen islands, and more. Plus, you can match the look of your aquarium to your home’s design aesthetics. They can be Roman-themed with dramatic columns, streamlined for a more modernist approach, space-aged, paneled, elegant, Japanese or SoHo styled. The sky’s the limit when it comes to luxury home aquariums.

The sky’s also the limit when it comes to luxury real estate. If you are considering moving in Montecito, Hope Ranch or another of the Santa Barbara area’s upscale communities, or if you’re buying and want to sell a home, give me a call at (805) 886-9378 or email me at I’ll happily add your home to my portfolio of fine properties and find you the perfect place for you to set up your own luxury home aquarium.

Back to Articles

Client Reviews

“It was an emotional experience selling our mother’s home in Montecito that we all loved so much but Cristal made the process easier on our whole family by guiding us through the transaction every step of the way. She knows the market so well and everything she recommended was on point including the asking price, painting, and staging the home, which looked beautiful and helped the buyer envision her new home. We sold it the first day it hit the market with an offer above asking! Cristal did an incredible job communicating with us and the buyer to ensure that the transaction would run smoothly. We highly recommend using Cristal, she was a pleasure to work with! ”

- J & A

“Cristal is a pleasure to work with! Her knowledge of the local real estate market coupled with her amazing listening skills resulted in her showing us an array of homes that were all excellent choices. Her low-pressure patient attitude made us feel extremely comfortable with the whole process. I cannot recommend her highly enough.”

- M.F.

“Cristal Clarke is #1 in her field - and you don't become #1 by luck. Cristal works harder, and longer, and with more charm and patience than any real estate agent I have ever worked with in the past; her calendar has no weekend, her days have no clocks, her only concern is selling your property as soon as possible and for the best price on the market. Am I a fan? You bet!”

- P.B.

“We have used Cristal now several times and cannot express how grateful we are for her expertise, dedication, and unwavering support throughout the entire home-buying process. Cristal is knowledgeable, patient and attentive. Her attention to detail is remarkable, and she consistently went above and beyond to provide us with all the information and resources we needed to make informed decisions. Cristal is a skillful negotiator and advocate. She can navigate complex negotiations with professionalism and grace and felt like a true partner to us in the home-buying process. Cristal has a genuine passion for real estate and a deep commitment to her clients' satisfaction. I cannot speak highly enough of Cristal and her exceptional service. She is a true expert in her field and her dedication to excellence, combined with unwavering support is the reason we choose to work with her for all our real estate buying needs.”

- T.C.

“Cristal is a top-notch realtor who sold my home before it ever went on the market. I had two competing offers that enabled me to get top dollar for my home. Not only is Cristal superb but her team is extraordinary. I cannot say enough about Cristal and her team. They are simply phenomenal, the consummate professionals, who took care of every possible detail, making the sale and transition period, smooth from our end. They are also lovely, caring people, who knew all the right professionals, to get the job done. Thank you, everyone!”

- D.R.

“I could list lots of cool adjectives to describe Cristal. All good by the way. But, that is not why I or anyone should hire Cristal. My reason for hiring her, which proved to be correct, is very simple. She got the job done. And, she does it time and time again and with zero issues. And, that is why she is one of the top agents in the country. End of subject. ”

- M.A.

“Working with Cristal was a complete pleasure. Cristal was extremely patient with us as we evaluated nearly 2 dozen homes over a span of 2 years. Her knowledge of the market is unmatched. Cristal provided us with exceptional counsel as we evaluated opportunities and negotiated pricing. The closing process was handled thoroughly and efficiently. We could not be happier with our purchase and even more happy to now call Cristal our friend.”

- D.K.

“Cristal Clarke has conducted numerous real estate transactions for me beginning 13 years ago with the purchase of a Lemon Ranch. She has handled both large and small purchases and sales with equal dedication. As a negotiator, you can’t find anyone better. Her transactions are always conducted in the most appropriate and professional manner. Cristal has considerable knowledge of the Santa Barbara market.”

- S.N. Decker Ph.D.

“Living in Europe, we were to say the least, unaccustomed to the nuances of Real Estate acquisition in California and Cristal steered us through the process with absolute professionalism and personal attention to detail at every turn. Her in-depth knowledge of the market place combined with enthusiasm and drive was the only reason we secured the property of our dreams and will be forever grateful. If you are looking for personal discrete and private representation of the highest quality we suggest you look no further than Cristal Clarke.”

- Johan and Paula van den Berg

“Cristal is very straightforward, cheerful, helpful, professional and trustworthy….we felt very lucky to work with her.”

- John and Lacey Williams

“After considering our many choices, we are grateful it was Cristal Clarke of Sotheby’s International who represented the sale of our Montecito cottage. We are familiar with Cristal’s reputation of hard work and dedication to clients, but it was her attention to detail that made our experience so positive. She offered suggestions for staging the property, worked in harmony with potential buyers and was even able to secure back up offers. The sale of our cottage was completed much sooner than we expected, due in great part to Cristal’s professional skills and support. We highly recommend Cristal as a first choice for anyone needing representation with real estate.”

- Michael & Nancy Lee

“Our experience in working with Cristal Clarke resulted in the successful and discrete acquisition of a property which was not yet on the open market. Her knowledge of the Montecito/Santa Barbara area and vast expertise blended with her passion for real estate and architecture, provided us with the very highest level of professionalism and personalized services. Cristal exhibited a rare combination of excellent communications, attention to detail, creativity and patience.”

- Richard and Catherine Frinier

“Cristal really breaks the mold. She knows every nook and cranny of this real estate market, understands value, and follows up on everything, all the time. She was incredibly patient with our two year quest to find the perfect house. Every house hunting trip from across the country was well planned, and our time was never wasted. On top of her professionalism and expertise, she is delightful to spend time with. We are thrilled with the home we purchased, and grateful to Cristal for so wisely advising us through this process, right through to the close and beyond.”

- Laurie Siegel

“We met Cristal first in the course of renting a winter home (for three years), then buying a house using her as our agent. She was amazingly good at listening to our wants and showing us homes that fit our needs. Her mastery of the paperwork was perfect. Most importantly, there was never a situation where we doubted her straightforwardness or integrity. If we do another real estate transaction in Montecito (which I doubt, we’re happy with what we purchased), without question we’d use Cristal again.”

- Ken Saffir

“Susan and I just want to thank you for your efforts in the sale of our home. You are really quite amazing. Your competence, persistence, optimism and humor made the entire process effortless. Every problem that arose, you somehow fixed; any obstacle, you overcame. We have bought and sold many homes. It has never been such a painless and enjoyable process!”

- Michael & Susan Marquart

“A little something about “our” realtor, Cristal Clarke. My wife and I came to Santa Barbara about fifteen years ago looking for a seasonal home from which to enjoy the weather and amenities of the central coast. Being in the real estate business myself I was familiar with agents and brokers so entered the market with open eyes. We “flipped” a few houses in the early years, dealing with various agents and finally ended up in Montecito. That’s when good fortune put us together with Cristal. To say we were impressed is to put it mildly. Cristal really knows the market. She is familiar with the area, its history and trends. When we have questions about a particular property she either has the answers immediately or gets back to us by phone or email. There is no waiting or wondering with Cristal. She is an agent who is “on top of it.” Her recommendations as to price points, contractors, inspectors and title agents have proven to be exceptional, showing great insight and the highest professional standards. We consider ourselves exceedingly fortunate to say that Cristal Clarke is our realtor and would recommend her services to any serious buyer or seller.”

- Rob & Judi Kelch