OK. Biggie topic with a biggie point of view (mine) There are so many reasons why a kitchen looks ugly. First, the kitchen is dated and old.: Nowadays not too much seamless vinyl (Congoleum, etc) anymore and few colored cabinets or tops with no décor and not a lot of walls totally wallpapered...or even bordered...on soffits More tile and stone on walls and floors, some hardwoods, green materials and even concrete are in fashion. Laminates are rare, but still around in updated versions.
In itself, old is not ugly, it's really just old and we like to giggle when it reminds us of Grandma's or Ma's or our first rental apartment. These rooms likely need to be gutted. Most of the time, the cabinetry is either crappy/dated that it's not reusable OR it was once good quality, but now falling apart. If you live in Santa Monica or some CA beach town like I visited last week, you can get away with repainting the cabinets and there's quaintness to that. Not too successful in the dark wintry cities we are used to, and mechanically these kitchens are pretty lame. Brown (and browner) has been the stain color for most of the past 10 years, and I am (for one) SICK of it. But most of us are not confident enough to try paint--even classic whites--or a "newer" natural look.
None of these kitchens works for me. They are either rundown, which is obvious, or they are "now" and the style is so oppressive and over-done in the design world that I can't look at those detail elements (like tumbled stones any more--that's the process that makes the shiny marble, granite, limestone look distressed). And those 3 x 6 brick tiles ("subway tiles"-- aptly named) are AWESOME when combined with SOME CREATIVITY (like contrasting inserts) --not just more of the same. Brown and black and beige and brown and brown and brown and all of those stainless appliances that are huge (and show all the fingerprints). And we don't like in medieval times. These details are silly.
OK, my rebellious outburst is over for now.. Please look for something that works WITH what is style or fashion; this "look" with all the dark and darker tones is now just getting old in kitchens (or in upholstered pieces) or anywhere. Find a Designer or a store Decorator or work with you or develop it yourself till you feel that you have done something that makes you like less of a follower. Kitchens (along with their partners--bathrooms) that follow trends will also fall out of style faster. Don't forget that the kitchen appliances are pretty much expected to last 20 years. Can the rest of the decorating in the kitchen hold up even half that long? Or do you plan to redo it in 7-10 years? Even that amount of time is LONG for a style to last. Remember that!