You won’t believe where I moved…

Austin, Texas skyline on a clear blue sky day.

March 1, 2023

Being a nomad for decades, I finally found a place called home. And I never could’ve imagined it would have been Austin, Texas.

For years, I’ve lived in places I felt like I needed to be for my career. From London to New York, and even a random stint in Turkey, I was never sure it was possible to find a place that I could settle down in and call home for good.

It’s true what they say, home is where the heart is. And that couldn’t be more true the day I met Philip Payne at a Glitzy Grammy after party in New York; he talked with a twinkle in his eye and he told me ‘I live in Austin, Texas”. I had been to Austin a couple of times: once for work and once with my dad, and I loved it both times. The city is booming and up-and-coming, with a unique mix of nature, music, and tech. But of course I kept thinking, this may never work long distance again – why couldn’t I just find someone who lives in the same apartment block? And although I couldn’t go into detail about our full love story and how we got here, long story short we were friends for nearly eight or nine months until I just stopped trying to fight the fact that I really liked Philip.

Little did I know, after only a year of serious dating, we would find out we were pregnant! Our plan had been to be bicoastal and find time to be together while we traveled. As you know I had a career as a model, and he was working in the music industry with artists, going on tours and helping manage them – so neither of us had a consistent schedule or stayed in one place for more than a couple of weeks. But we had talked about our future, and luckily Philip was hellbent on raising his family in Austin, Texas, which I I liked the sound of; I was just so focused on my career, I hadn’t imagined it happening this soon.

Roll on summer of 2019, and we find out we have the greatest blessing in the world: we’re pregnant with our little one, and immediately everything clicked and made sense. We had to lay our roots in Austin so we started hunting for homes, and since Austin was (and is still) booming, there was barely anything available. We knew we had to move fairly quickly if we did like something! Thankfully, Philip was close friends with an amazing realtor called Matt, and I can’t deny that I loved looking around homes and being my noisy self. Around Thanksgiving time when we had just found out the sex of our baby, we viewed a home that we felt calm and cozy as soon as we walked in; I instantly knew that that was where I wanted to have my child. I had already known at that time that I wanted a home birth, so for me the environment was really really important. The street was also known to have a really strong community of neighbors which I thought would be really really wonderful for me moving to a new state, being in a new chapter of my life as a mom and literally knowing maybe five people all of which were Philip friends.

Iskra is holding her baby standing next to Philip, smiling in a casual family photo outside their home.

This home means so much to us – I gave birth right there in the kitchen and every corner of this home has really special memories – from our baby’s first walk, to our first Christmas as a family. But we quickly grew out of it, especially as no one saw the pandemic coming, which took Philip off the road from touring with music artists and halted my modeling career where I was no longer traveling for shoots. We found ourselves at home working together, and surprisingly we genuinely loved it. Trying to convert random rooms into offices just wasn’t working, so midway through 2021 I began looking at houses again. We started going again to view tons of houses, looking at different layouts and spaces. I said to Matt, I either find the perfect plot of land and build from scratch, or I want to renovate a home so that it uniquely works for us.

After a couple of months of searching on and off, a property came onto the market that really intrigued me. It was on 4 acres in a location that we could only dream of living, 35 years old with a really bizarre basement situation completely open to the elements – rocks and stones on the floor fencing all around it, kind of being used as a strange boat storage area. We’re not 100% sure what the previous owners used the space for, but I immediately had this vision of turning this large open space into an industrial style gym and office space – with huge steel black windows keeping the visible steel frames, and accentuating them with black paint, and an open plan light concrete floor throughout.

I stumbled upon this unique property that I feel only I would know what to do with because it was such a strange basement ground floor space, nearly 3000 feet extra (the original home was 5000 ft²). We made an offer that same day because when I really want something, I go after it. We bid $100,000 above asking price and I told Matt, I really want this house. We knew the market was crazy and we were very very lucky because they were all cash buyers that we won; honestly this is just the beginning of the story.

Iskra, Philip, and their baby are all standing inside the home they're building.

I wasn’t planning on sharing this video, because it was more for my family to see the house when we were touring it. It’s in the complete original state, and as you can see it’s pretty dated – it had yellow and green painted walls, a very small section of rooms, and the ceilings were pretty low. But I want you to watch this video because it will give you a feel for the house when I first saw it, and you can continue on this crazy journey with us to see the complete renovations. We were hoping to move in by Christmas of this year (2022) but you know how things go – I’m thinking it could be closer to the beginning of 2023, which would suck to be honest because I actually bought a 50% discounted Christmas tree this January with the hopes of it being moved into the new house. Philip thought I was crazy, and honestly he might have been right because now we have a 15 foot Christmas tree being stored in a two-car garage here in our current house!

A view inside of the home Iskra's family is building (under construction).

I really want to make sure I share all the aspects of this home renovation because it has not been a walk in the park. I think everyone knows when you get into a big renovation project like this, there are always going to be bumps along the road, but the financial stress and strain has been far greater than I could’ve imagined for our family. Honestly, I’m going back and forth with my dad (who is CFO for my business) working out and forecasting cash flow for the next few months because we are definitely behind on where we hoped to be with the renovation. Nearly all the subcontractors costs have gone up 10, 20, even 30% during the pandemic, and on top of that there’s everything going on in the world where materials are been held up, and there’ve been issues with transportation. It’s definitely been a struggle, though without scaring any of you, I want to make sure that I talk about all of the realities of renovating our dream home.

You can find lots of renovation updates on our Instagram account at making a house a home, but I’d also love to know the types of content and blog posts that you want to see or feel would be useful to learn from our experience and what we are currently going through.

I’ll be back with updates soon, but in the meantime I’m sending you a huge hug and lots of love,

Iskra XOXO

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