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Better Living

A Sense of Home

Words by Zarna Surti, Global Editorial Director at Nike Women
Edited by Tamy Emma Pepin
Photography by Hanna Hazel

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Zarna at her home in Portland, Oregon.

Growing up, my childhood home was full of vibrant Persian rugs, black marble floors, golden Hindu statues, and a humble decadence that many Indian families know and love. It smelled of toasted spices, jasmine incense, and fresh-cut saffron marigolds from our garden. But most of all, it was a place of generational love—my father, mother, brother, grandparents, and I lived with an ever-rotating cast of characters. From the 33-year-old mustached man who stayed with us for months figuring out how to transition from India to the States to the quiet young lady who needed solace from an arranged marriage gone wrong, our home was a refuge for many incredible people. That’s why my brother and I have always adopted an open door policy in our homes—my friends and family know they can always pop by unannounced and there will be a warm bed for them to sleep in or a hot meal for them on the stove.

Our parents taught us the importance of treating every guest well—in India, they always say, “Treat your guests like God.”
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Zarna with her family at a friend's wedding.

When I started reflecting on the idea of home, I realized I’ve lived in fifteen homes in my life—some of them being short three-month stays, but others, like my most recent home in Los Angeles’ neighborhood of Silver Lake, were filled with over four years of memories, love, and a comfort that filled me up every time I stepped through the door. As I’ve transitioned to Portland, the change has been more difficult than any other move in my life. I truly nested in my beautiful Silver Lake haven, it was a romantic place with ‘30s Spanish architecture, chandeliers on dimmers, and a view that spanned from Downtown Los Angeles to Hollywood. It was also the place I fell in love—my boyfriend and I first started dating as I moved into that magical apartment, and the memories we created there lived in the walls. I hope to create a new collection of memories in Portland, but I know new spaces take time to nest in and feel like a true home.

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A corner of the living room featuring keepsakes from my various homes.

To make any new home and transition easier, I have a few rituals I do on the first day, like lighting my favorite candles, because scent is the strongest sense to me. Then, I make sure to make personal touches even before every box is unpacked—a set of books and the small ceramic elephant my grandmother gave me go on my nightstand, and decorative pillows and throws adorn the sofa to create a sense of warmth. The room I set up first is my kitchen—I know most people start with bedrooms and living rooms, but my mom would always cook a hot meal on our first night in any home, and that has always stuck with me. I tend to make a warm bowl of kitchari on my first night—it’s a traditional Gujarati dish made of rice and lentils, and always provides a soothing and eased transition for my body into a new space. That piece of familiarity guides me into feeling at home somewhere I’ve barely been before.

I hope to create a new collection of memories in Portland, but I know new spaces take time to nest in and feel like a true home.

This year, I hope my home starts to find its beat as I furnish each room and give each detail love. I want the space to start filling up with the feeling of home that I miss so desperately. I hope the walls start to absorb the same love, and new, exciting memories. As I build these moments, I nod to my favorite time of the day—sunrise. I love waking up early to enjoy dusty jazz records, a delicious book, and a warm cup of coffee. I’ve had that same routine for seven years now—yes, I’m not perfect and it goes in and out, but in this transition, I’ve made sure it’s a strong component in my morning. A soft start has always been something I cherish. I know eventually life will get crazy—kids, families, routines all take precedence as you get older, but for now, I’m enjoying this simple solitude in moments I love.

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I truly believe if we all experience each other’s homes, rituals, and quirks, we start to get a better sense of each other—no matter how minimal or decadent, there is such beauty in inviting someone into your home. In America, it seems like people don’t open that door as much as they do in other places, but just letting someone through the front door can mean the world.

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About Zarna Surti

With over a decade of editorial experience, Zarna Surti was most recently the founder of Tonal Studios, a Los Angeles-based creative studio. She’s also the founder and editor in chief of Tonal Journal, an annual book series highlighting women of color. She’s written for Forbes, Refinery29, Vogue, Girlboss, and Greatest, among many others. Alongside her written editorial work, Zarna has moderated panels focused on women of color and intersectional feminism in Los Angeles and New York. Growing up in Nashville, Zarna has also lived in Boston, Miami, Buenos Aires, and Los Angeles before moving to Portland where she is currently the Global Editorial Director at Nike focusing on the Olympics and Nike Women. You can normally find her flying to Nashville to visit her brother & parents, traveling to Los Angeles to visit her partner, or cooking up a Gujarati dish at home.

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