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A Malvern Family Transforms Their Home into a Winter Wonderland

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Photos by Ed Williams

Every year, this family of five decks the halls of their Main Line home, pulling inspiration from Longwood Gardens and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

Born on Christmas Day, Michelle Clymer takes extra joy in decorating for the holidays. As a young girl, she remembers Santa making a surprise visit to her birthday party. These days, she enjoys hosting the festivities, creating a warm and welcoming holiday setting for friends and family.

Matt and Michelle Clymer with their children, (from left) Addison, Reagan and Hudson.

Michelle, her husband, Matt, and their three children—Addison, Hudson and Reagan—live in Malvern in a house that’s designed for family living and entertaining. She’s the firstborn of five siblings, and her father is one of 13 children. So family celebrations are a cherished tradition.

Each year, on the day after Thanksgiving, the Clymers and their neighbors head to Yeager’s Farm & Market in Phoenixville to pick out a tree. There, visitors have the option of buying a pre-cut fir or chopping their own. “They have cookies and hot chocolate for the kids and places where you can take family pictures,” she says.

At the Clymer home, framed holiday photographs lend their decorating a personal touch and provide a fitting retrospective on how families evolve over the years. They even hang framed miniature family portraits on the tree, each with a red ribbon.

A Fine Pickle

When the Clymers bought their home in 2017, they knew right away where they’d put their tree. A vaulted ceiling in front of a soaring bank of windows accommodates one up to 10 feet tall. The angel on top commemorates the Clymers’ first holiday together. Matt found it at a shop in Hockessin, Del.

Each year, a tiny pickle ornament is hidden in the branches, and the kids scramble to see who can find it first. “The winner gets bragging rights,” says Michelle.

The living room is an inviting space, with elegant yet durable finishes. Michelle worked with interior designer Larina Kase, who came up with a plan that celebrates both everyday pleasures and special occasions. Performance fabrics cover a large sofa and a pair of occasional chairs mounted on concealed swivels. A large ottoman and lounging chair are upholstered in tufted leather. “My husband and I are both from Chester County, and we like that Larina utilizes local artisans and boutiques,” says Michelle.

Decking the Halls

Matt and his family are big fans of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and it’s reflected in ornaments on the tree that depict the film’s fictional Griswold family. The nativity scene was handed down by Michelle’s mother, and a small vintage sleigh came from Cricket’s Antiques & Garden Market in Glenmoore. Rusty and black when the family bought it, the sled has since been sanded and sprayed a shimmering silver. It now holds logs for the fireplace.

Each year, the Clymers add something new to their holiday décor. Before she buys anything, Michelle asks herself three questions: “Do I love it? Where am I going to display it? And where am I going to store it?”

On the home’s lower level, the Clymers entertain in a large family room with a bar and stacked-stone walls. Nutcrackers stand sentry on either side of the TV, and the Santa doll on the bar is a memento from Matt’s family.

The week before Christmas is devoted to baking sugar cookies, dark chocolate with mint kisses, and gingerbread cookies. The kids each make a gingerbread house, choosing a different style of architecture, ranging from a cottage to a manor house. Pecan tassies are a family tradition, handed down by Michelle’s grandmother. “They’re basically miniature pecan pies. I loved them as a child and want to keep that tradition going,” she says.


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Holiday Feasting

Each Christmas, the Clymers host a buffet-style brunch spread that includes caramel apple French toast, sausage, egg-and-cheese bake, hash browns, and other treats. The kids eat in the breakfast room, where an advent wreath hangs and sprigs of mistletoe are tucked into the chandelier.

The grownups gather in the formal dining room, where cozy, upholstered chairs surround a large table. Gold pillar-style candles on clear glass stands are interspersed with fresh evergreens, pinecones and colorful ornaments. On this special day, the table is laid with the best china, crystal and silver and dressed with a red tablecloth printed in a subtle holly motif. Overhead, winterberries are threaded through the arms of the chandelier.

A Christmas cracker is a fun surprise at each place setting. To open the gift, guests cross arms and pull on the end of their neighbor’s cracker. With a loud snap, the cracker comes apart, revealing paper crowns, miniature toys and tiny printed riddles.

Helping Hands

Juggling dual careers and three kids, the Clymers always appreciate any extra help with decorating. Last year, they turned to Great Valley Christmas Decor, a professional holiday lighting firm in Frazer, to illuminate the trees and shrubs in front of their home. Electric candles gleam in the windows. Evergreen swags with pinecones and wide red ribbons and bows are draped above the front door.

The Clymer home in Malvern.

Longwood Gardens is a perpetual source of inspiration for Michelle. The twinkling lights twined on the branches of the magnolia tree are wrapped in Longwood style. The wreaths that adorn the third-floor dormer windows are artful artificial greens with battery-operated lights. “We store them in the attic, so they’re in a convenient location when it’s time to hang them next year,” she says.

Both MBAs, the Clymers have a penchant for organization and optimization. Their holiday garlands are on timers, set to come on each day at 4:30 p.m. Matt neatly labels each swag, indicating where it should hang. “It’s super helpful knowing precisely what’s in each box and where it will go,” says Michelle. “It makes decorating more fun and less confusing.”