Things seem to have started early for Peyton Johnston and Rylee Knittel, Oakdale High School alumnus of 2021. Longtime best friends and former Mustangs are the current owners of famous interior design company Gracefulleigh Designed.
“We were passionate about organizing, so we have machines that make labels,” Knittel said of starting the business last September. “We could customize the labels and stuff, and then how it all started was, we wanted to make our manicurist a doormat for his new studio suite, so we made him one for his business.”
From there, she added, they just seemed to kick off, as the creative juices flowed freely.
The two young women shared that it was at the start of distance learning in their 2020-21 school year that they became restless and each acquired Cricut label makers. A hobby-turned-business started in a corner of the dining room at Knittel’s house and over the past year has grown to take over Johnston’s garage.
The business began to grow when a family friend suggested they do a pop-up event, move outside of his store, and sell their products. What started with custom hand painted doormats and custom door hangers with Cricut has now spread to tea towels, charcuterie boards and a few other personalized items.
“We can do anything custom made,” said Johnston. “We did things for business people, last names, just like generic sayings, we could do a bunch of different things. “
“Our most popular is ‘Welcome it depends on who you are’ which sells like every time in our pop-ups,” Knittel said of their original doormats.
“We paint everything by hand, a lot of people don’t know that, and then we seal it all like a transparent on top,” Johnston explained.
The enterprise-oriented craftsmanship by first year students of Modesto Junior College is self-taught and takes inspiration from Tik Tok and Pinterest for their designs. The products are sold in pop-ups as well as through their social media pages bearing the same name as the company.
“It’s a combination of my middle name and middle name,” Johnston explained of the unusual but quirky spelling of the company name. “So her middle name is Grace and my middle name is Leigh Anne, so it’s a combination of the two.”
As they attend MJC courses almost full time, the two share the company which keeps them in business as the main job for the two, working four to five days a week.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Johnston said of working with her best friend. “A lot of people don’t have fun when they work; we can have a lot of fun.
“We are frustrated with each other,” Knittel added, “but we know when we are frustrated with each other.”
The couple shared that they each have their own specialties that complement each other.
Over the past year and while doing business, the two have learned a number of valuable lessons, including the value of customer service and being professionals.
“I think dealing with customer service is quite difficult,” admitted Knittel, of those customers who are harder to please than others.
“You have to learn to keep your cool because you can’t ruin your reputation, you know,” Johnston added.
Yet at the end of the day, the duo openly shared that they value the freedom to be independent as much as they do to share it with each other.
“I think interacting with people personally for me being able to create anything anyone wants,” Johnston said of his favorite part of the business. “Like their last name or if they want their logo for their store front. Being able to put that on an item and then having our product advertised in their store, in front of their store or whatever, is the best part for me personally and I just like to see them as happy people when it’s done.
Looking to the future, young business owners shared that they had plans.
“Finally, as soon as possible, we would like to make a mobile trailer, get one, renovate it and make it super cute inside, and then be able to bring it to events,” Knittel said.