The difference between cream and ivory is largely a semantic one. When you are choosing paint or fabric colors for your house or decor for a wedding, you do need to gauge the degree of yellow in the white for either hue. Avoid juxtaposing stark arctic white against either cream or ivory, unless you are dealing with a severely limited palette so that the white and off-white look like they are part a deliberate design choice.
Butter and Bone
Cream is milk's butterfat, the silky rich, slightly yellow liquid that signifies extravagance, as in creme-de-la-creme. It always has a yellow cast that adds a mild sunny note to the opaque white. Ivory is the hard, white dentine in an elephant's tusks. New ivory is very white -- it may have a nearly indistinguishable hint of blush but it tends toward a warm white. As real ivory ages, it takes on a yellow cast and more closely resembles buttery cream. In a room, cream-colored paint should be respected for its yellow undertones and paired carefully with other colors that won't create a sallow or jaundiced ambiance. Ivory, in silk taffeta draperies or another fabric with that gleams, might give off a silvery sheen, or be the color of bleached bone.
Cream paint in the kitchen sets the stage for traditional and rustic decor. A soft, sun-tinted cream enamel on cabinets blends seamlessly with a satin or eggshell cream on the walls and trim. The shade enhances the natural warmth of wood -- on butcher block counter tops, in artisanal cutting boards hung on the wall like art on wide plank floors. Cream paint is the perfect foil for terra-cotta tile floors and shows off a Talavera tile backsplash. The one thing you can't do in this kitchen is keep the white appliances. White porcelain and enamel clash with smooth cream. Replace the stove and refrigerator with brushed aluminum or a retro appliance in colored enamel.
Cover sofas and chairs in ivory linen, hang raw-silk ivory curtains from ceiling to floor, muffle footsteps with a thick ivory oriental or an ivory Berber carpet. Paint the walls and ceiling flat ivory and sink into a room of utter luxury. Keep the sophisticated decor approach going over the holidays with mostly ivory banners and baubles. Dust the real evergreen tree with artificial snow outside before you set it up and deck the branches with snow-white and antique ivory ornaments, punctuated by simple beads, fake icicles and garlands shot with silver and gold or made of glass. A mercury glass pedestal tureen on the mantel holds ivory and gold Christmas tree balls and creamy beeswax candles flicker softly at night in the pristine space.
The gown no longer has to be blinding white -- a wedding dress in ivory lace has a hint of "something old" or timeless chic and works to perfection with an armload of calla lilies. The reception decor is both minimalist and fabulous when the hall is done in shades of cream and ivory with one main color accent -- purple iris, silver-gray or bougainvillea flame -- used very sparingly. Creamy rose boutonnieres against ivory tuxes or gray morning coats and a cascade of cream roses, white lilac and lisianthus and delicate green Hedera ivy for the bride in an ivory silk crepe de chine fitted gown are pure style. The spare off-whites and neutrals flatter most complexions, are casually luxurious and focus attention on the wedding party, which is the main objective of the entire event.