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Creating Panache in Self-Storage Facility Design

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By Bruce Jordan

Design is a very subjective term, and when applied to the self-storage industry, it can involve aesthetics, function, construction materials, architectural forms and a sociopolitical dimension. We’re always looking for new ways to improve building performance while refining the look of new projects. We aim to incorporate innovative new materials as we gain a better understanding of customers and how they relate to and choose a storage business. Throw in climate, local politics and emerging products, and you have a variety of design options to shape the next generation of storage facilities, one that combines purpose with panache.

Facility Size

We’re seeing a trend toward larger facilities—not in all markets, but definitely in the major U.S. cities. In fact, there are several 200,000-square-foot facilities being designed right now. Just a few years ago, this was considered too large.

This trend is partially attributable to increased density in large cities, but it’s also a way for developers to stake their claim in a particular market and discourage competition in areas where new sites are scarce. While debt-servicing a partially vacant facility through lease-up adds cost to a project, the future availability of land (or lack thereof), its increased value and rises in construction costs also have their price. It remains to be seen if this trend will continue, but it’s something we’re seeing in many markets today.

Architectural Metal Panels

New construction materials are coming on the market all the time, giving developers and architects many fresh options for building design. Architectural metal panels are providing designers with many new cost-effective yet attractive choices. These include insulated and fire-rated panels, which were previously considered expensive for self-storage. While their cost is similar to that of stucco, these panels can be installed in less time. They even give builders nice-looking options for cold-weather installation.

Architectural metal panels come in many shapes, sizes, profiles, finishes and colors. Profiles can run horizontally or vertically and be attached with concealed fasteners. They can also run from curvilinear, ribbed, horizontal reveals. Finish options include baked enamel and corrugated or exposed metal.

Colors tend to vary by region and operator, but the trend is toward earth tones. Sedate colors as well as terra cotta, burnt orange and even a few purples can add some boldness and visual interest to a building. The use of color in self-storage design has always been a great way to brand facilities.

Office Style

Since a customer’s initial impression often occurs at the self-storage facility’s entry and office, these areas play an important role in the overall design. Make no mistake—this is a retail business. As such, your office should reflect a retail design, showcasing your product while providing a bright, cheerful, organized and secure environment.

A great design element to use in the office is a large expanse of clear glass so the building is plainly visible from the fronting street and parking area. Landscaping can be designed to direct a customer’s attention to the office and enhance or soften the entryway. A customer should be able to see and clearly understand the entry sequence. This will also add a security element when the manager and tenant can see one another from the moment the customer parks. When each customer can clearly see the entry, office and manager, there’s a sense of safety and organization, which contributes to a positive experience.

There’s also a trend toward smaller, freestanding customer-service counters similar to those found in newer car-rental offices. This kiosk approach allows for a more open office, but the jury is still out on this style. A majority of developers still prefer a well-designed counter with a seating area for customers and a clear representation of the facility’s security measures displayed on screens. This approach is more functional, as it gives managers more file space and convenience while offering customers a friendly place to sit and engage with staff.

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