Case Studies

Spec-Rite Designs LLC

Pioneering Specialized Phenolic Design and Manufacturing

Steve Kistner, general manager of Spec-Rite Designs LLC (Spec-Rite Designs), is a New Englander at heart who grew up in Massachusetts, but headed for the West Coast in his early 20s. “I got out of there after the blizzard of ’78,” Kistner laughs. “I went to Los Angeles and then Texas before landing in St. Louis.” Kistner now works for Spec-Rite Designs, one of the nation’s largest specialized phenolic product design and manufacturing firms.

Spec-Rite Designs is a St. Louis-based designer, manufacturer and global distributor of solid phenolic interior furnishings and wall lining. The company’s precise CNC technology and innovative design services make for unparalleled custom solutions. “Fifty percent of every product we make is fully customized,” details Kistner. “We can take whatever our customers or architects have in mind and bring it to life.”

Spec-Rite Designs’ holding company, MHS Legacy Group (MHS), has been in the industry for over 117 years and now boasts a diverse assortment of service companies. “MHS has roots in the St. Louis area dating back to 1895,” explains Kistner. “They’ve been around for quite a while.” Spec-Rite Designs later came about in 1995, becoming a niche-focused operation of MHS and the first in the United States to both market and distribute phenolic products.

The First in Phenolics

“Our division mainly installed concrete countertops and performed flat shop work into the early 1950s,” details Kistner. “As the market evolved we followed the trends. It was a natural transition into phenolics.” When solid phenolic panels first came to North America in the early 1990s, Spec-Rite Designs acquired ownership of the first container from the market leader in phenolic panels, Trespa. “We haven’t looked back since,” adds Kistner.

Today the company serves both North American and international clients out of a 20,000-square-foot plant. Spec-Rite Designs also boasts five exclusive product lines, including Design-Tec Lockers, DesignLine Cabinets, Durable Designs Furniture, DesignRite Partitions and GECKO Wall Lining Systems.

“While our competitors try to work with a variety of materials like plastic, metal or wood, we stick to solid phenolic,” explains Kistner. “We’re very specialized in the material and we’ve been doing it longer than anyone in North America. We have the skill set and knowledge when it comes to the design and fabrication of this product.”

As a highly specialized operation, Spec-Rite Designs has in-house designers, estimators, project managers, engineers and fabricators to help customers achieve the desired vision. “We don’t charge any extra fee for this, design and customization is part of the service we provide,” adds Kistner.

Fundamentally Sustainable

Due to its basic properties, phenolic material is fundamentally a sustainable building option. “I think we’re on the launching pad of a trend that’s going to take place here,” admits Kistner. “From a durability standpoint, phenolic is so superior to other building materials that just fall apart because it lasts for at least 20 years.”

Phenolic panels are 70 percent craft paper. “The paper is similar to a paper bag you’d get at the grocery store,” details Kistner. “The paper is stacked to create the desired thickness and covered with decorative paper. We have over 500 color and core options to choose from.” Kistner is proud to note that the company’s options achieve positive results.

“The final result is a homogeneous panel that’s not absorbent, bendable or breakable,” continues Kistner. “You can even submerge it in water. It’s also a purely sustainable option that doesn’t emit any VOCs into the air and maintains its quality and durability over the long term.” Kistner explains phenolic panels are ideal for schools, nursing homes and other highly populated buildings because the product is bacteria-, mold- and mildew-resistant.

“Red Oak is considered throughout the industry to be one of the strongest building materials,” shares Kistner. “Phenolic has two-times the pull strength of Red Oak and it will look exactly like the day you installed it 20 years from now. That’s unheard of in other building supplies.”

As LEED certification has become a greater concern, the company has increased its commitment to sustainable building. “All of our products are GREENGUARD-certified and last longer than anything out there, drastically reducing maintenance and replacement,” adds Kistner. The entire Spec-Rite Designs team has made a pledge to be part of an environmentally responsible manufacturing firm through eco-friendly material choices, including sourcing locally produced materials, providing hardware with a high recycled content, encouraging in-house paper, plastic, glass and aluminum recycling, as well as actively supporting LEED-certified projects and maintaining LEED Accredited Professionals on-staff.

Custom Creations

Spec-Rite Designs works with a broad range of clients from various industries, delivering a custom creation on every job. “Lockers are our bread and butter, but we also have recently developed an institutional furniture line,” shares Kistner. “We can furnish everything from a dorm room to a jail cell. One of our current biggest customers is a residential youth treatment facility in upstate New York. We’ve provided furniture for a dozen of their facilities, ranging from entertainment centers to workstations, beds to wardrobe units.”

Furnishing correctional and mental health facilities demands that Spec-Rite Designs be creative and develop designs that match safety standards. “We’ve had to jump through many hoops with the state agencies in regards to certain hardware, loop-able hazards and a variety of accommodations to make the area safe,” details Kistner.

Although Spec-Rite Designs is a United States-based manufacturing firm, the company performs jobs and distributes products on a worldwide scale. “We recently shipped over 800 lockers to King Abdulla University in Saudi Arabia,” reveals Kistner. “We also ship to the military, public and private clients and from Denmark to Mexico, Japan to Middle East.” Spec-Rite Designs’ award-winning work has been featured in some of the most recognized and distinguished buildings in the world.

The company has worked to build relationships with dealer-installers around the world. “We have trusted partnerships with hundreds of these businesses who love our products and know our reputation,” shares Kistner. Spec-Rite Designs LLC has become a well-known, valued entity for innovative phenolic products and commitment to custom sustainable designs.

For more information about Spec-Rite Designs LLC, please visit:

Showcase your feature on your website with a custom “As Featured in US Builders Review” badge that links directly to your article!

Copy and paste this script into your page coding (ideally right before the closing tag) where you want to display our review banner.


Spring 2018



  • * We’ll never share your email or info with anyone.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.