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Aquariums For Small Spaces

Updated: Jan 28, 2021

For many the thought of a huge aquarium in their living room, kitchen or dining area can be an intimidating prospect. Despite the tendency of aquarists to have a preference for larger aquariums, bigger isn’t necessarily always better when talking about aquariums as an integrated feature within the home.

A built-in aquarium does not have to be a huge awe-inspiring installation worth £10,000’s or even £100,000’s. A beautifully designed small aquarium can add just as much life and beauty to a space as a 3 metre long statement feature without emptying the bank account. Whilst the initial impact is more subtle, small aquariums still add a dynamic element to a space creating; light, colour and movement.

Fish keepers often adopt the approach of “bigger is better” when designing and planning their aquariums as larger water volumes create more stable ecosystems to manage and maintain long term. This tendency to create the largest possible aquarium (budget permitted) can sometimes lead to a break or disruption within the natural flow of a space. This can lead to a large overbearing anex that doesn’t really work with the layout of the room. From a design perspective this can create real challenges with balancing aesthetics and functionality within a space. The purpose of an aquarium within any interior should be to create balance and positive energy whilst adding a beautiful yet dynamic element to an interior.

Ching Chai Reef tank
This impressive reef tank by Ching Chai in Thailand is an extreme example of when an aquarium becomes the room as opposed to being a part of the room.


The UK is currently going through a small home crisis. An ever increasing demand for more affordable housing as a result of a highly inflated property market, has forced developers to build smaller new homes that sell for less money. This is compounded with the increasing pressure by local authorities and central government to restrict urban sprawl onto green belt land, forcing developers to create homes on space restrictive brown belt land as part of on-going urban regeneration schemes. With limited space and an ever diminishing first time buyer’s market it’s little surprise that the average home in Britain today is 15% smaller than anywhere else in Europe. The average UK home size of 72 square metres is currently 10% smaller than of 30 years ago. With increasing pressure on the government from developers lobbying for the complete removal of minimum size standards, it is totally plausible for the current trend of house size reduction to continue into the foreseeable future. According to studies carried out by RIBA UK houses are currently 8.8% smaller than what they should be, creating a detrimental effect on peoples stress levels and overall wellbeing.

Small aquariums solve the problems that can arise when designing or building an aquarium into a small space; as they are easier to assimilate into the physical environment, and so allow for more design options. The smaller footprint means that they can be easily built into corners, alcoves or specially adapted room furniture. They make great accent features by either drawing the attention to particular areas within a space or being part of a wider arrangement. i.e. a seating area or an accented display.

In terms of colour most modern and contemporary spaces tend have a subdued palette with stone colours and wood finishes or completely monochrome with white being the new black! For the designer who likes to add colour through accessorising a small aquarium is the perfect solution to add that splash of colour without disrupting those clean lines that they covert so dearly.

Reef Tank by Aquarium Design Group
Reef tank creating a colourful accent amidst this mostly monochrome interior by Aquarium Design Group

7 Tips for integrating a small aquarium into your interior

  1. Avoid placing near bright light sources like TV’s or computer screens as they will diminish the impact the aquarium and throw the room out of balance.

  2. Try to avoid brightly coloured areas and position your aquarium within a surrounding that’s either monochrome (black or white); or has subdued natural (stone/wood) tones like shades of brown or grey.

  3. Avoid heavily stocking with fish and focus more energy on the aquascape (interior layout). A nicely aquascaped tank with a few fish can have a significant impact on the space.

  4. Avoid strong/bright aquarium lighting as this will fuel algae growth.

  5. Tidy away any loose wires as they will detract from the overall presentation. Loose wiring are more noticeable on small tanks.

  6. When integrating into an enclosed space i.e. a cabinet or shelving unit fan assisted ventilation is a must, with humidity and condensation being a real problem in small enclosed spaces

  7. Don’t let your aquarium get in the way! Small tanks are best situated around the peripheral area of a room. They are generally not big enough to be centrepieces around which furniture and other design elements can be arranged.

Within the last 10 years there has been an explosion of technological advances that has made keeping small aquariums a much more viable and affordable option. With an ever-increasing population and a demand for small and more affordable housing, this sector of the aquatics industry has seen an explosion over the last 10 years. The implications of cramped housing and the overall impact this has on general health and wellbeing would explain the popularity of small aquarium systems in recent years. We are all looking for ways to improve our quality of life and connecting with nature through your aquarium is a great way to achieve this whilst at the same time adding beauty to your space.

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