Design is an integral part of Alisha Sturino’s DNA. The daughter of an artist and a builder, Sturino showed her interior design chops from a young age — rearranging her bedroom and decorating her Georgian-style dollhouse. After studying visual art at the University of Western Ontario and interior design at Sheridan College, she got her start interning at Yabu Pushelberg and quickly worked her way up the ladder. Following a brief stint working for a design-build start-up, Sturino founded Studio Otty — named after her grandfather Otello, an entrepreneur hotelier — in 2020. The studio has become a fixture of Toronto’s residential design scene — also taking on hospitality projects like Ode, a family-run boutique hotel on Dundas Street West. Read on to learn more about Studio Otty.
How did your practice get started?
I had the opportunity to work as the design director for a start-up, which allowed me to learn more about the business end. Around the same time, my husband and I purchased a dilapidated house in Toronto that we planned to turn into a triplex. He encouraged me to do the renovation myself. And so, I left and started working on our house with Steve Hajsan — a contractor and long-time friend of my father. We quickly realized that we had complementary skills and really needed each other. I was at the house every day and he was teaching me how to build from the ground up.
Steve helped to get us off the ground. He came with 20 years of expertise and contacts in the trades, and then I bring the other side — connections with artists and furniture makers, and I handle both the design and client side of the business. It’s been a really lovely working relationship. We’re both always learning and growing. In many ways, it feels meant to be.
What is your firm’s main focus — what do clients come to you for?
We have definitely fallen more into the residential market. That is partially my choice, but also due to the pandemic, the business has been very referral based. Some people have reached out for design consultations in terms of furniture or paint selection while others are interested in building from scratch. We’re also working on a new commercial project that I can’t speak to yet — but in my dream world, I would love to have a mix of both types of projects.
If you had to describe your style in a few sentences, what would you say?
I would say my personal style is more on the modern side. I’m always trying to create timeless spaces. I love the contrast of bold, rich colours and textures against the clean architectural lines of a space, mixing in antiques or more crafty pieces, art and textiles. Travel is a major source of inspiration for me. Our own house is very modern with clean lines, but we’ve layered in rugs from Morocco and pieces we’ve collected from our travels.
Tell us about some of your favourite projects.
As a designer, you’re always proud of the spaces you build, but Ode was a particularly special project. In a hotel project, where you’re just setting it up for a short-term stay, there’s an opportunity to push the boundaries. You’re not creating a space that someone lives in permanently. Instead, it’s important to create a unique experience that feels warm and inviting. Through that project, I’ve learned that I love working on a more intimate scale, where I can focus on the small details and create a curated space.
My house was also a beautiful project because I learned so much throughout that process. I’d never built a home from scratch, but I’m really proud of the fine details and craftsmanship. It was amazing to watch Steve build it. The pandemic was a blessing for me because it allowed me to slow down and digest the decisions we were making to ensure we would be happy with them long term. Fast renos are so challenging because the client is investing in their home, but you don’t have that luxury of time.
What’s in the works for you right now?
We’re juggling many projects. At Ode, we’re working to finish the basement rooms in time for TIFF in September. Other than that, the focus at Studio Otty is primarily on residential. We finished a huge renovation a few months ago and are just waiting on a few more furniture pieces. We’re also working on another reno in Toronto that was fast and furious — about a month and a half — and kept growing in scope. I’m also working with one of my first residential clients on a second project to upgrade their rooms with new furniture selections. He very much gave me carte blanche, which is incredible. www.studiootty.com