Mum’s shock as hubby guts family home while she’s on hols to install 5,000 litre £150,000 aquarium in middle of three rooms
A fish fanatic told his wife to go on holiday for a week while he installed a new tank – only to ‘tear the house apart’ installing a 5,000-litre aquarium that saw the family kicked out of their home for FIVE MONTHS.
Martin Lakin’s designs for his 120-fish and live coral reef extravaganza were so extreme that his first architect told him he was ‘mad’ and their three bedroom detached house would collapse.
So the architect was promptly sacked and Martin, 49, brought in a structural engineer to oversee him rip out walls and wedge a 250 cubic feet monster tank into the MIDDLE of his house.
Wife Kay, 53, claims her husband ‘defied gravity’ installing the £150,000 tank, which saw her living with her mother for months on end as walls, ceilings and floors were removed from the family home.
At times she worried she ‘might never get her house back in one piece’.
The tank is so big that Kay and their 15-year-old son James were able to SWIM in it before the wildlife was brought in.
Now the tank sits in the centre of the home and is viewable from THREE downstairs rooms as well as from the study upstairs. It even has its own automated skylight to give the fish light and air.
Kay, from Rochester, Kent, said: “Martin already had a huge fish tank but he wanted a bigger one and said he needed a bigger house to fit it in. I loved our house so didn’t want to move.
“So we compromised – he got a bigger tank in our current house. As it turns out, he got the fish tank he had wanted for a bigger property and redesigned our house around it.
“I knew none of this though – he said why don’t you go on holiday for a few weeks so I went to stay with my sister in Tenerife as she lives over there. When I came back, he then had me and our son James go and live with my mother as the fish tank wasn’t finished yet.
“I knew something ‘fishy’ was going on but didn’t realise quite what he was up to until ‘too late’.”
Martin’s second advisor was structural engineer Paul XXXX who brought in giant steel girders arranged in a crucifix shape to hold up the house once walls were moved or torn down to accommodate the tank.
The project began in January 2012 and was expected to be completed by February, though it was not completed until June.
Two giant steel joists, the length and height of the house, were brought in to support the structure after the central wall separating the living room and garage was moved by 1.5metres to the left.
The tank itself cost a staggering £50,000, but costs spiralled much higher during the six months of building work, which included a team of 35 different people involved in the project.
Add to this figure the importing of a half a ton of live coral, all of the complex machinery, pumps and computers that run the tank 24 hours a day and Martin estimates the cost to be around £150,000.
Martin, a facilities management consultant, said: “I stopped counting once it went over £100,000. I’m sure it would be enough to buy a decent place with in itself. But don’t tell Kay that! But you’ve got to be bold, butch and decisive to get these things done.”
The costs don’t stop there though; the upkeep alone of the fish tanks costs more than £4,000 a year.
Martin currently spends £200 a month on electricity alone to power the mammoth aquarium – though he hopes 20 solar panels he recently installed on the side of the property will soon reduce this cost.
And this is before the tank had any of the 120 fish – and growing – collection in it.
One fish in particular, a tri colour tang, changes colour as the weeks go by and Martin estimates he is one of only about 20 in the world to have one.
Martin said: “I managed to get the tri colour tang a number of years ago for just £350 before people realised how rare and incredible they are. He’s priceless now.
“Since then, I’ve had one gentleman offer me £6,000 for the fish but I told him no. I couldn’t sell him – he’s my pride and joy and like a pet to me. I know I would never be able to get another.”
Kay met Martin when they were young teens and were friends for many years during both of their own separate first marriages.
She believes that it was the fish in her late father’s garden centre that inspired a young Martin to take up the hobby.
Kay, a medical receptionist, said: “He has been obsessed ever since. Even his first tank was huge and blew everyone’s socks off when they saw it, but that was about a fifth of this one. But he was never happy with it. I couldn’t understand how you could get a bigger one, but clearly you can!
“He kept telling everyone ‘wait until you see my next one!’ He still says that to people but I say no way. Never again. It was horrific at the time and a complete nightmare seeing the house taken apart in that way.
“It was crazy really – Martin defied gravity with what he did to the place. There were times when I was really worried if I would ever get the house back in one piece or even still standing.
“But it was safe and the council came round a lot to check planning permission and check it was safe. But we could have ended up quite easily with serious structural damage if slightest thing went wrong.
“But it was all worth it in the end and now we have an amazing fish tank that does wow all the guests when they come round. It is a huge talking point as it really is spectacular.
“The only bad thing is the smell when it is cleaned out. The filters smell awfully bad, so bad in fact that it pollutes the whole house so Martin tends to save cleaning days for when I’m out of the house. I’ve had some embarrassing moments with friends coming round after a clean-out and me trying to explain what that terrible stench is – it really is the worst smell imaginable.”
The heated, saltwater tank requires 50kilos of salt adding to it every month and an in-built computer running the aquarium.
Alarms go off when things go wrong and if Martin is away she has to let him hear the alarm tone over the phone so that he can instruct her how to fix it.
Martin adds vodka to the tank continually to balance the nitrogen and pH levels, going through about a litre every month – and it is the agreement that he buys Kay a bottle of whisky whenever the fish get restocked on their booze.
The fish tank can be viewed from the living room, kitchen and a dedicated ‘fish viewing room’ downstairs, while the skylight allows Martin to look in it from above in his study upstairs.
The skylight, which meant the ceiling had to be torn out to install it, is electronically-operated and opens to allow hot air to escape if the system detects the tank temperature rises.
Kay said: “When the ultra-violet glow from the fish beams out of the skylight at night, we have had neighbours and friends ask what we are doing in the home as the glow looks like we are trying to grow something we shouldn’t!
“You can see it from the other end of the street and I wouldn’t be surprised if pilots going overhead haven’t looked down and wondered what it could be.”
Son James was lucky enough to get a swim in the aquarium before the fish and coral were introduced – though it was not quite what he had hoped.
James, who earns his pocket money through the four-hour ordeal of cleaning the tank out each weekend, said: “When it was first installed, I thought it might fun to have a tropical swim before the fish were in there but my dad had only put tap water in so it was absolutely freezing and I couldn’t stay in long – I earnt my pocket money that day testing it for him.
“I couldn’t believe he wanted another thank – the last was huge. I thought mum would kill him when she saw what he had done to the house – she had no idea what he was up to until she saw half the house in pieces.
“I walked past once and saw it in a right state, I couldn’t believe it was our house, it was a mess, more like a building site. The door was hanging off. I wondered if I would ever get my old room back or if we would be stuck living at grandma’s forever.”
One of James’ other tasks is collecting McFlurry spoons from McDonald’s, which Martin uses to grow new coral – a process called ‘fragging’. James has visited the local McDonald’s so often that on one occasion he was given a box of 200 spoons in a bid to get rid of him.
Martin explained that keeping a tropical saltwater fish tank or aquarium healthy in the home is a lot harder than people think and that the hard work did not end once the building work was done.
Martin said: “It’s a 24-seven process. You are constantly battling to keep the water at the right temperature, the right pH, you have build-up of fish waste and nitrogen to contend with every day.
“You can never relax and even on holiday you will have you alarms wired through to your laptop to keep you in the loop on how the tank is. This gets too much for most people so many tanks are quite short lived.
“I’m really, really proud of my aquarium. I get asked to go places to talk about it all the time, famous people know me as they guy with the crazy fish tank. It’s a very unusual thing to be famous for. People send me questions about it from all over the globe.
“Too many people say I am nuts to have done it but life is too short not to try and achieve your dreams. I lost my dad in May and my mum is very poorly with cancer and this has reminded me how short life is so I’m very pleased I have done something that’s different and it’s made people smile from all over the world.”
Martin’s friend Scott, who was present for much of the building work, believes Martin’s tank is one of the best in the UK.
Scott, 35, said: “Martin is a unique character and that’s how he did it – being him. He doesn’t understand the limits that constrain other human beings. Just look at how he went about this – he told Kay to go on holiday when it was all an illusion so he could tear the house apart.
“What Kay doesn’t know is the existing one is only a temporary one for an even bigger tank that Martin dreams of. This one is the footprint for a tank three feet taller, possibly almost 10,000 litres. She is convinced this won’t happen but if I know Martin, I suspect it might.”
“It is almost certainly the best tank in the UK. It is not the biggest or have the most fish but it is the most special considering the space he did it in. He took a relatively small space that he had to work with and redesigned it around a giant tank better suited to a mansion. And I doubt it has added any value to the house.”