Blog: Designing Bespoke Aquariums Into Modern Kitchens

Working closely with top level kitchen design brands such as Poggenpohl over the last two years has enabled us to developed a good understanding of the challenges and opportunities that are involved with integrating an aquarium into a kitchen. Here are a few thoughts and insights shared by Aquafront founder Akil Gordon-Beckford. A version of this article can be found on Lisa Melvins Blogsite

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The term ‘living space’ when used to describe the purpose of modern kitchens has now become engrained within the conversation of home and lifestyle design. Often modern kitchens are defined not just by the ergonomics and door finishes but by the features integrated into them i.e. appliances, technology, and entertainment. The explosion of new products and innovative features has led to us now spending more time in our kitchens than ever before. This shift from a purely functional space to a living space has led to home owners and designers thinking out of the box, incorporating stand out features to create the ultimate lifestyle experience.


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Aquarium image by Aquafront

In the same way remote control work top extractors and multi purpose taps will raise an eyebrow, a seamlessly integrated aquarium will create that wow factor within any kitchen space. Aquariums are fast becoming the ultimate lifestyle accessory to incorporate into your home. They add light, colour, and movement to a space, and are incredibly versatile from a design perspective with an infinite variety of sizes and dimensions. An indication of this new and growing trend within kitchen design is clear when luxury brands like Poggenpohl are embracing the concept of integrated aquariums into their range.

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Aquafront aquarium built into Poggenpohl kitchen design +Artesio

For an aquarium designer a kitchen offers a number of opportunities and challenges. Here are a few considerations to think about when building an aquarium into a kitchen.   

Planning and preparation

When trying to create that seamless integrated finish it is always a good idea to think about your aquarium at the early stages of your design and plan for the necessary provisions and services that will make the long term maintenance of you aquarium as easy as possible. Considering these things can be expensive when retrofitting an aquarium into a finished kitchen so make the provisions for it at the initial stage even if you’re not planning to install an aquarium in the immediate future. You should treat your aquarium in the same way you would treat any other appliance in terms of supplying it with water and electricity and a means of drainage.
Connecting your aquarium to the water mains will make water changes as easy as turning a few taps or valves. Untreated mains water will be really harmful to your aquarium system and its fish so the water will need to be treated before it enters the tank. The best way to do this is to pass the water through a series of canisters containing DI resin, Carbon and micron-particle filters. A four stage water filter will remove most of the harmful chemicals from the tap water. 

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Aquafront aquarium showing plumbing and ventilation and aluminium extrusion frame within Poggenpohl cabinetry.

Plumbing your aquarium into the waste pipe system will make maintenance a far less messy and laborious process. The combination of a clean water supply and drainage also gives you the option of automating some of the more arduous tasks involved with aquarium care. In addition to the supply and removal of water making sure your aquarium system has an adequate electrical supply, on its own dedicated circuit is a good way to prevent overloads and trips. Avoid running equipment off regular household plugs and get your electrician to provide IP rated junction boxes, as splashes and condensation are a reality with any aquarium.
Removing moist air from enclosed cabinetry will dramatically improve the life span of doors, fascias and panels. During the planning stage think about how you will ventilate the cabinetry or units around the aquarium to prevent condensation build up, which in turn leads to fungus and mould. This really applies to any enclosed aquarium but is extremely pertinent when in the kitchen as mould and fungus throws up issues of hygiene in a food preparation area.

Integrate Physically

I often refer to aquarium cabinetry as the frame around the art! Using the same panels and door fronts as the rest of the kitchen to clad around the aquarium is a very effective way of creating that seamless integrated look. This is especially important in modern European designed kitchens where clean lines and seamless finishes are key features of this design style.

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Aquafront aquarium built into a German design kitchen with matching door fronts

Ventilation and door material are two key things you must take into consideration when building an aquarium into kitchen furniture.

Aquariums over a short period of time will evaporate significant quantities of water as a result of tropical temperatures and water movement. In a standard enclosed kitchen carcass unit, condensation will rapidly build up leading to water damage of furniture. You can significantly extend the lifespan of your cabinetry by allowing it to breathe via ventilation. Essentially ventilation allows the movement of air around and over the aquarium from one point to another. By doing this moist air is taken away from the panels and carcass before condensation takes place. Ventilation can either be passive where openings or grills in the cabinetry allow air to freely flow through carrying moist air with it. Whilst this option is relatively inexpensive and quiet, it is not very efficient for moving large amounts of moist air. A fan assisted ventilation system is by far the best solution for solving this problem. You can get really good silent/low noise fans with humidity sensors that are compact enough to fit into most kitchen units.


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Kitchen aquarium by Mark Gacesa - Ultraspace with aquarium ventilation above display

The type of material you choose to build your aquarium cabinetry out of will determine its longevity and lifespan. This all depends on the materials level of water resistance. Most kitchen doors and units are made of vynl wrapped or wood laminated MDF. Generally speaking MDF has a very poor level of water resistance and will blow quite readily in the presence of persistent moisture. MDF kitchen carcasses are also unsuitable to be in close contact with the aquarium. The system we use involves using aluminium extrusion frames to which exterior panels and doors are fixed or hinged to. Aluminium is light in weight and rust resistant and easy to fix to, so is ideal for this type application.

In terms of the panels I’ve found materials like corian and acylic are a good versatile material to work with. They both come in a range of colours and finishes and is light enough in weight to create fixable panels and doors with. If however your going down the MDF panel route then painted lacquers or polyresin sprayed boards are the best way to maximise water resistance. Unlike veneers and laminates these MDF boards have been completely sealed and coated with a water repellent substance. Considering that most kitchen doors and panels are made using an MDF substrate and an almost infinite number of coulurs and finishes makes this option the most popular with our clients.     

Integrate Practically

Contrary to what most aquarium designers and fish enthusiast will say bigger isn’t always better when designing an aquarium into a kitchen. There’s nothing worse than seeing a kitchen being choked by an aquarium that becomes the space, not part of it!

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Big tank small kitchen syndrome!  (http://justdonttellmum.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/good-aquarium-setup-for-kitchen.html)

Large aquariums work best as space dividers or partitions between the functional area and dining area of an open plan kitchen. If however you were integrating an aquarium into the run of wall units, cabinetry or as a splash back then try to be conservative with your dimensions. Any kitchen designer will tell you that work top surface area is a premium resource in any kitchen design. I would suggest a minimum tank depth (front to back) of 300mm to allow enough room for your fish to swim comfortably, and for you to prep your food. This however really is all relative to the size of your kitchen, as exceptionally large kitchens can easily accommodate a large impressive display tank within its furniture.

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Concept design drawing of aquarium built into a splash back by Aquafront


Lighting


You can integrate the arrangement of your aquarium lighting into the wider lighting scheme of the kitchen. I use three principles to create a multidimensional lighting experience; colour, position and timing when considering how I am going to illuminate an aquarium in relation to the space it is in.
Like with any other lighting source the colour of you aquarium lighting can significantly impact on the mood it creates within the tank as well as the room it sits in.
The position of light sources within and around an aquarium can create additional options and focal points for the lighting within the kitchen. Spot lights both submersible and non-submersible can create dramatic effects within and around the display. Strip lights to create back lit plinths and fascia’s can also work well for creating a desired atmosphere within the space.

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Kitchen aquarium by Mark Gacesa - Ultraspace

Controlling the times in which different light sources are on within and around your aquarium can enable you to create the right lighting at the right time and social setting. Creating different lighting solutions enables you to create a layered lighting scheme which can be controlled using remotes, timers and mobile devices via your home automation/AV system. 

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Kitchen aquarium by Mark Gacesa - Ultraspace

You can make your kitchen aquarium as simple or as complex as you wish. Greater complexity and better technology within your system comes with the benefits of less time spent maintaining the tank. This however comes at a cost! I always advise our clients to design their systems to be future proof when budget becomes an issue, so if they wish to add or upgrade certain features to their system they are not restricted by the absence of key features. Ultimately your aquarium will redefine your kitchen space and how you use it!  The kitchen is often referred to as the heart of the home so why not give that heart some TLC, courtesy of Mother Nature.