For Irene Neuwirth, Home Is Where Her Horses Are

irene neuwirth in la quinta
Irene Neuwirth's California Animal HouseDouglas Friedman

When you arrive in Irene Neuwirth’s neighborhood in La Quinta, California, it’s immediately clear which home belongs to the jewelry designer, who is known for her command of color. Hers is the only property in view that is not beige brick with beige stucco accents. Ignoring the strictures of the homeowner association, she painted the one-story house a soothing Spanish white. Sage-toned shutters blend into a cactus garden that replaced a green lawn. The association’s board has complained only mildly. Her equine companions, on the other hand, don’t mind at all. They are Coconut Grove, Scout’s Honor, Guess Who, Guess Again, and Mango, and they are Neuwirth’s Dutch Warmblood horses. She bought the house two years ago to be near them.

“This is like my midlife crisis,” she says. She is gesturing around her breezy accommodations, but she also means the steeds, the stables, and the national equestrian competitions that have taken her away from her Culver City studio for weeks at a time in the six years since she met a chestnut gent named Twinkle Toes.

irene neuewirth at her la quinta home with horse

Now Neuwirth lives two lives, one as a jewelry designer, with stores on Melrose Place and Madison Avenue, whose vivid creations erupt with precious and semiprecious stones that make them red carpet standouts. Vice President Kamala Harris is often seen with a double strand of Neuwirth pearls.

“They’re completely whimsical and exquisite,” says Julia Louis-Dreyfus, first a client, now a friend. “Not your straightforward big, fat diamond.”

Then there’s the other Neuwirth, the one who sports dusty boots and riding breeches to the Desert International Horse Park in Thermal, California. There, she leaves jewelry behind to focus on hand control and jump timing.

Equestrian work is making her a better designer and boss, she says. “It’s allowed me to have space and walk away from work. I used to get writer’s block… I’m much more focused.” Still, a year ago a stranger approached Neuwirth at a horse show. “You know, there’s a jewelry designer with your name,” the woman said. Neuwirth winced. “I was like, ‘I have got to get back to work.’”

irene neuwirth in la quinta
A painting by Neuwirth’s mother Geraldine brightens the dining room, where a custon table by Petersen Antiques and Design features Irene Neuwirth X Anthony Dominici tableware.Douglas Friedman

Still, the house is all about the horses. John Bragg, a horse trainer based in San Juan Capis­trano who is Neuwirth’s equestrian coach, suggested two years ago that she stop Airbnb-ing and look at a house for sale in La Quinta, closer to the annual Desert Circuit.

irene neuwirth in la quinta
In the living room, two Maker & Son sofas in Celestine and Amazonite linen.Douglas Friedman

“It was gross,” she says of the house. Not gross in a filthy way but in an innocuous sea-of-beige way. Neuwirth, though, liked the airy courtyard, which had a fireplace, and the location 10 minutes from her horses. She phoned her friend the interior designer Sarah Shetter, who was immediately smitten.

“I drove out the next day,” Shetter says. “As vanilla and strange as it was, any house that’s focused around an interior courtyard you can work with.”

irene neuwirth kitchen in la quinta
In the kitchen, stools from Shoppe Amber Interiors under LU Drop pendants from Lumfardo. The white Zellige wall tiles and terra-cotta flooring are by Mission Tile West.Douglas Friedman

A mere eight months of construction (led by a female contractor, Sue Sweitzer) transformed the property into a plein-air oasis. The courtyard is now punctuated with deep sofas and a dining table large enough to seat 16, all backing onto a long, desertscaped pool. Color pops out ­helter-skelter: a sea foam Gregory Parkinson silk and sisal carpet; marigold and terra-cotta floor tiles; a ceramic Clare Crespo light fixture in the guest bath; lush abstract paintings by her mother (and sometime jewelry model) the artist Geraldine Neuwirth. A den is awash in tone-on-tone greens.

“I want Phil to have a really cozy place to watch movies,” Neuwirth says, referring to her boyfriend of 20 years, the filmmaker Phil Lord.

irene neuwirth la quinta house
The den’s malachite hues are amplified by the Lawrence of La Brea wool rug and a sectional custom designed by Sarah Shetter in JAB Anstoetz Bronco Vol. 2.Douglas Friedman
irene neuwirth in la quinta

For most of the year the couple and their doodles Miguel and Ernie (and now a puppy bernadoodle named Javier) live in a Malibu house that she describes as “funky. It’s like Big Sur.” It was her pandemic move, when Neuwirth sold her beloved—but too snug for lockdown—house on the Venice Beach canals. La Quinta has become her desert escape and the center of her other life, the one that revolves around show ring hunters—a discipline that requires a symbiotic relationship between rider and horse as they leap man-made hedges and fences. It’s hard, but it’s supposed to look effortless.

irene neuwirth in la quinta
Shetter designed the custom art table in Neuwirth’s studio.Douglas Friedman

Neuwirth rode horses as a child at a barn that didn’t show in the A circuit. “My parents were supportive,” she says, but didn’t want it to be her entire life. “My dad once said that waiting around for the few minutes of competition was like watching grass grow.” She quit riding, launched her jewelry brand, and worked for two decades. “I worked really hard for years. I did all my sales myself—everything,” she says. “I had no work-life balance. All I did was work.” When Louis-­Dreyfus requested Neuwirth pieces for an event 15 years ago, the designer brought them over herself. As they sat on the edge of the actress’s bathtub looking in the mirror, a friendship blossomed.

In the spring of 2018 Neuwirth came across an Instagram post from a girl on horseback, an old friend whom she had once babysat. On a whim Neuwirth asked to visit the stables: “I just want to come out and spend a day with horses.” She did, and soon afterward she leased a horse herself. Then she purchased Twinkle Toes.

irene neuwirth la quinta house
The crown jewel of Southern Califronia living: a blue-ribbon worthy pool.Douglas Friedman

Her own social media profile was soon a mix of jewelry and horse posts. A blue ribbon appeared. Then another. She bought more horses. She stumbled during her first truly elite tour back east in 2021, with a disappointment at the highly competitive Capital Challenge in Maryland. “I got my ass handed to me,” she says. “I really hate to lose.”

We’ve reached the point in her story where you might reject the premise as fiction. But Neuwirth headed east in 2022, obsessively paced the rings in mental preparation, and won in her first time competing at the Devon Horse Show, one of the most prestigious events of its kind. Returning to the Capital Challenge, this time she won, as she did at the Washington International and the Pennsylvania National Horse Shows, stringing more blue ribbons on the stalls of her growing herd. Cue triumphant Hans Zimmer score!

“She has a very good eye,” says her trainer, Bragg. “Based on her lack of experience, coming back the way she did, that’s something she was born with.” Her friends watch with wonder. “I’m amazed that she’s doing it. I stand in awe of her as an athlete being able to do this. I mean, my god, it’s just incredible,” Louis-Dreyfus gushes.

Neuwirth says she feels lucky to have found a hobby in her forties, when she is independent enough to pursue it properly. “It’s an explosive feeling,” she says of flying over jumps. “It almost feels like something’s not right, but it is.”

irene neuwirth
Neuwirth on the cover of the April 2024 issue of T&C. She wears Irene Neuwirth earrings ($75,620), necklaces (from $5,790), bracelets (from $12,120), and rings (from $9,460), All clothes NeuwirthDouglas Friedman

Photographed by Douglas Friedman

This story appears in the April 2024 issue of Town & Country, with the headline "Home with Friends." SUBSCRIBE NOW

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