The New Shape of Self-Storage: Understanding the Influences Behind Today’s Facility Designs

Self-storage has emerged as a real estate powerhouse, but with this status comes higher expectations, not only for business performance but for a facility’s look and feel. In fact, today’s designs are being influenced by several forces, including a savvier customer base and more stringent jurisdictions. Let’s dig deeper to discover what’s shaping new projects.

David Meinecke, Vice President

June 22, 2024

5 Min Read

From tin shacks to ornately designed commercial establishments, self-storage facilities have evolved tremendously over the past four decades. Arguably the most significant changes have been in the last 10 to 15 years as multi-story projects gain greater popularity and newcomers to the asset class seek to separate themselves from the competition. There have been modifications in design and materials alongside operational adjustments to give tenants and prospects a modern, streamlined experience.

Like other types of real estate, self-storage continues to adapt to an ever-changing world. The reasoning behind various alterations can vary, but it all impacts the development approach. Let’s explore the major influences on today’s facility design, current trends, and what might be ahead for this dynamic industry.

The Primary Influencers

What are some of the most significant influences on today’s self-storage design? Jurisdictions, for one, can have an enormous impact. Their requirements vary from location to location but can ultimately define the materials, articulation and architectural style of a project, just as a start. Couple this with design-review boards that are often highly politicized and you have a lot of people with conflicting opinions to please.

Another factor shaping design is site condition, which can wreak havoc on a building plan. Self-storage developers are often forced to choose from challenging land parcels that have notable constraints. These might relate to shape, topography, easements, access and more, all of which can dramatically alter the project footprint and force the design team into atypical layouts to maximize square footage.

The good news is solutions to these hurdles can generally be cleared with the right development team and thoughtful design. For example, I’ve seen numerous sites with topography issues that were passed over for other types of development but were made appropriate for a self-storage use through the application of ramps. In a recent situation, I worked on a layout with more than 50 feet of topographical fall, a 40-foot-wide water easement and a flood plain. We were able to use the easement area to help satisfy the parking requirement while working the grades to create ground-floor access to all buildings.

Aesthetics paint the pretty picture customers see upon entry to a self-storage facility. Colors are largely derived from company branding but can also be dictated by the municipality. For instance, in a difficult California county, the design-review board recently steered a proposed development away from the owner’s brand colors and toward earth tones it felt better blended with the surroundings.

High-end materials combined with thoughtful articulation are becoming the norm in modern self-storage developments. More than ever before, we’re seeing ornate, elaborate structures that far surpass what we’ve witnessed in previous decades. While some of the designs are more cutting-edge, the higher-grade—and more costly—materials are almost always focused on the office and street frontage to help rein in costs.

Of course, looks aren’t everything. It's also important to consider the durability and longevity of materials to cut down on maintenance and maximize lifespan. Incorporating concrete, block, brick and similar components are great for this. Historically, concrete block has been popular. Coming in various colors and textures, it’s relatively inexpensive way to mix hues and textures without sacrificing durability.

Now, there are so many variations on the market, with veneers and composites becoming higher quality by the day. Recently, we specified a veneer that resembles weathered barn wood. From five feet away, it looks extremely similar; from 50 feet away, you can’t even tell the difference. By applying these materials in areas of high visual interest such as the office and street façade, you can save money and satisfy the judicial powers that be.

Self-storage building materials and components are constantly being upgraded. Industry tradeshows and publications are a great way to stay informed about new products and concepts. A carefully planned design can incorporate a variety of materials to bring a nicer look while garnering praise from the community. A clear understanding of what the jurisdiction wants (sometimes an impossible task) will aid in directing the design team on how best to integrate newer construction options. If a product is used correctly, the one-time cost can help save money throughout the life of the project.

Inquire with your consulting team about new products and how they might benefit your self-storage development. Using high-end materials doesn’t have to break the bank if their implementation is focused in a way that highlights important building features.

The Role of Technology on Design

Also influencing the design of the many modern self-storage facilities is industry technology. As consumers become more tech-savvy and demanding of convenience, we’re seeing a shift in office layout, for example. Many owners are now electing to eliminate counters and cabinets in favor of a small, minimalist design incorporating podiums to accommodate the use of tablets and kiosks. We’re using more exposed ceilings, polished concrete floors and clean lines.

Into the Future

As self-storage building materials, concepts and technology continue to evolve, rest assured that more exciting design options will follow suit. Often, material changes are implemented to address building and energy-code changes, which gives designers creative tools to bring a different look to the industry. These can be useful when combatting difficult-to-please jurisdictions in the planning phase as well.

There are a lot of unknowns in the self-storage development landscape, but one thing remains constant: Jurisdictions and entitlements aren’t getting any easier and will likely get more complex as codes and regulations become more stringent. The impact on design from cities and counties has intensified over the years, and since COVID-19, project timelines have become significantly longer. Four years after the start of the pandemic, we’re still feeling the ripple effects. For example, we’re seeing an influx of new, inexperienced staff at jurisdictions, plus high turnover, which has made the entitlement process exhaustive.

Regardless of these challenges, having a well-designed facility will only benefit your bottom line. While simple in nature, self-storage requires an experienced design team to help you achieve an efficient and safe project that ensures operational and financial success.

David Meinecke is vice president of Jordan Architects, a design firm that specializes in self-storage, custom residential, hospitality, multi-family and retail projects as well as land planning. He has more than 14 years of experience in self-storage design and development. A member of the Self Storage Association’s Young Leadership Group, he holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of San Diego and is an associate member of the American Institute of Architects. For more information, call 949.388.8090 or email [email protected].

About the Author(s)

David Meinecke

Vice President, Jordan Architects Inc.

David Meinecke is vice president of Jordan Architects. He has more than 14 years of experience in self-storage design and development. He’s a member of the national Self Storage Association’s Young Leadership Group. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of San Diego and is an associate member of the American Institute of Architects. For more information, call 949.388.8090; visit

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