DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
To beautify the gigantic self-storage facility being built on Kapahulu across from the big Public Storage facility, Hawaii Self Storage has brought in mosaic artist, Leah Rigg, above. CLICK FOR LARGE
Storage, with style
A local artist's mosaics will grace a new self-storage place in Kaimuki
IN HER garage studio near the top of Wilhelmina Rise, mosaic artist Leah Rigg is putting the finishing touches on a mural, made from thousands of pieces of hand-glazed tile, depicting torch ginger growing before a sweep of green mountains.
Approximately 15 feet wide and about five feet tall, the section Rigg is working on is only a portion of what eventually will be a piece of art nearly two stories tall. And that's one of the more modest pieces Rigg is doing for the series. Another piece, depicting native Hawaiian taro gatherers, will be 27 feet tall.
Such an ambitious art project might seem de rigeur for one of Oahu's high-end resorts, luxury condo towers or luxe shopping centers. But Rigg's artwork is destined for a business decidedly less known for luxury and aesthetics: a 171,000-square-foot self-storage facility under construction in Kaimuki.
MW Group Ltd., developer of the Hawaii Self Storage facility, says the mosaic is an example of what the company is doing to earn goodwill from the community .
"The last thing we want to be thought of is just another big self-storage facility," said Mike Wood, a principal of MW Group, who is Hawaii Self Storage's chief marketer.
That's a view increasingly shared by an industry that once was associated with bare-bones warehouse space divided by wood-framed lockers located in less desirable parts of town.
Hawaii Self Storage rival StorSecure Self Storage
, for example, also has taken steps to beautify its oceanfront facility in Hawaii Kai. The developers, who will celebrate the facility's grand opening next month, made a point to decorate the facade with custom grillwork hand-painted to look like oxidized copper, says Annette Pang, a StorSecure principal and senior vice president of marketing.
"You really want to become part of the neighborhood and not be an eyesore," Pang said. "You don't want to just look like this tractor-trailer place."
The extra work seems to be paying off, Pang said.
"The neighbors have received us so warmly," she said. "They think we're a resort."
If Rigg's previous projects are any indication, the Hawaii Self Storage facility in Kaimuki also will have a polish more associated with tony residential and retail projects.
A trained psychologist who previously counseled autistic children, Rigg started making mosaics about 13 years ago, doing small projects such as tables and wall pieces. At that time, Rigg was working with fellow artist Kristen Kenney. Their business included small residential projects as well as a mural installed at the Roxy Quiksilver retail store on Auahi Street.
After the birth of her first child, Kenney quit the labor-intensive mosaic work and eventually started a jewelry design business, Celia Duke Corp.
For her part, Rigg decided to focus on making her art into a full-time job. In the past several years, her company, Leah Kilpatrick Rigg Mosaics Inc., has done a set of three 23-foot-wide mosaics for Punahou School's Case Middle School and an extensive series of mosaics for Kaneohe Ranch Co. Ltd.'s shopping center redevelopment in Kailua. Rigg is now working on a set of 15 5-by-5-foot panels for a subdivision that Grove Farm Co. Inc. is developing on Kauai.
Her work primarily depicts Hawaiian scenes: native plants, birds, water scenes and the like. To ensure that her palette has the full range of the islands' colors, Rigg hand glazes plain tiles that she buys in bulk, then bakes the tiles in one of her two kilns. In addition to her home studio, Rigg has a second studio at her parents' house.
Rigg, 37, generally works in the mornings when her children are at school, and at night when they have gone to bed. But she said the mosaics are often family affairs that her children help with by glazing tiles.
Rigg declined to say how much Hawaii Self Storage is paying for the pieces; however, Wood said the investment is significant when accounting for the work that must be done to prepare the building's facades to hold the murals.
"Let's just say we'll have well over $100,000 invested in this," he said.
MW Group is spending tens of thousands more to build a clock tower, including about $50,000 for the clock mechanism alone, Wood said.
Rigg said this shows that MW Group is committed to aesthetics.
"What I really like about them is that they're not just looking to put up something," she said. "What is so surprising is these people are seriously trying to make a building that will be a landmark. They don't want to be just another big storage building."