Todays Self-Storage Design Trends: Materials, Architecture, Building Codes and More

The latest self-storage design trends are being driven by market factors such as smaller building sites, a need for multi-functional space, municipal demands, building codes and more.

Ken Carrell

December 8, 2017

4 Min Read
Todays Self-Storage Design Trends: Materials, Architecture, Building Codes and More

Some of the latest self-storage designs are incorporating new materials, unique architecture and building-code changes. Cities and regional districts are increasingly implementing their own rules to dictate what a facility can look like. In addition, we’re seeing more small, suburban sites being developed. Let’s examine the trends connected to each of these dynamics.

Building Exteriors

Cities, counties and regional boards are increasingly requiring storage facilities to blend in with their surroundings. Many municipalities now prefer facilities to look like something other than self-storage, such as an office building, apartment complex or even a strip mall. On one recent project in Whittier, Calif., the city asked the designer to make it look more like the apartment building next door. The final design included balconies, shutters and plant ledges.

When jurisdictions don’t have aesthetic requirements, many new facilities are designed with a contemporary style to stand out from surrounding structures. Designers continue to use more glass, metal panels, bright colors and cutting-edge materials to highlight the architecture of the building. Metal panels aren’t the old galvanized ones that used to be prevalent. Instead, they have a hard silicon-polyester finish that’s impervious to damage and doesn’t require paint. Designs often incorporate more windows to make unit doors visible from the street.

Eco-friendly fiberglass siding is another material you’ll start to see more frequently. It can be painted or stained and comes in various textures and widths. While it takes a little more work to install, it looks like wood. It’s tough, durable and ages well. A storage facility in Carmel Valley, Calif., was built using this product in 2004 and still looks like new.

Building Interiors

When it comes to self-storage building interiors, the management office is changing. It’s no longer just the place where customers rent or pay. Many modern facilities are equipped with display units in the office that demonstrate how much can fit inside each size. These displays can also serve other purposes. For example:

  • The largest display unit, typically a 10-by 20, can be turned into a conference room for use by tenants.

  • Another large display unit can be used to house mailboxes for rent, or to offer pack and ship services.

  • A 10-by-10 or 10-by-15 can be transformed into an area where people can use their laptops or other mobile devices.

  • A 5-by-10 space can house a printer, fax machine and other equipment.

  • A 5-by-5 can hold toys for kids to play with while their parents are busy filling out rental forms.

Another trend is to design connected units that open into each other, with one that serves as an office and the other used for storage. While this moves away from traditional self-storage—not only does it require power and lighting, it involves more regulations and tenant parking—it will become popular as more people launch small businesses.

Building Codes

New building codes are also affecting self-storage facility design, particularly regarding accessibility. Handicap-accessible units must now be represented within the mix of spaces at your site. You also must provide an accessible provide a path of travel to these units. While you can put all your handicap units on the ground floor, there’s nothing in the code that says you can’t put them on an upper level so long as they’re accessible from an elevator. Just be aware that you won’t be able to use overhead doors on handicap units unless you motorize them. Swing doors are an acceptable solution.

Smaller Sites

In many urban and even some suburban areas, large development sites are no longer available, and smaller storage facilities are becoming more common. This is particularly true on “infill sites,” nestled between existing buildings. For example, the Whittier project mentioned earlier was designed on slightly less than 1 acre. The 82,000-square-foot building yielded 59,000 square feet of net leasable area.

To make small sites feasible, you must build up; but multi-story facilities cost more to develop. To help keep expenses in check, the height is often limited to three stories, which maintains the standard construction style used for storage.


More and more old warehouses, empty grocery stores and abandoned big-box retail outlets are being converted to self-storage. Depending on clearance height, you can often create two stories within these structures. A common drawback with conversions is the potential for long distances between points of entry and storage units. Customers don’t want to walk any farther than necessary, and if a large building has limited access on one or more sides, you may have to offer some rental discounts.

These are just some of the newest design trends we’re seeing in the self-storage marketplace. Rest assured more are on the way as the industry evolves.

Kenneth Carrell is the principal architect at ARE Associates in Lake Forest, Calif., an award-winning architectural firm specializing in the self-storage industry. For more information, call 949.305.4752; visit

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