There are lots of different aspects to kitchen design. Here, we will consider two basic matters-cabinets and countertops.
Kitchen cabinets are really branching out these days with all sorts of choices in woods and finishes. One of the newer trends is a painted finish which can actually give your cabinets an old-fashioned look. In fact, if your old, drab cabinets still function well, you may not want to replace them at all. Instead, consider painting them and bringing new life to your kitchen in that way.
If painting seems too much, try glazing them to give them sheen, crackling them to give them an aged warmth, or stenciling them to put lovely designs around the edges or right in the center. You can also spruce up old cabinets simply by getting them new knobs. Brush brass knobs can add a gleam that your old cabinets never had before. Glass knobs can look elegant. And rusted iron knobs can give a rustic charm to the whole kitchen.
If you are starting from scratch or want to start over, you'll have a lot more to choose from than in the old days. Kitchen cabinets no longer have to run in a straight, even (some might say "dull") line. You can get cabinets that vary their height for every so many feet of run, getting you a little variation in the look.
You can even help design your own with semi-custom or custom cabinets. That way you can take advantage of every nook and cranny in your kitchen while carving out just the right amount of space for appliances like microwaves, blenders, and stand mixers.
Kitchen countertops are also more exciting than they used to be. You've got a lot more choices these days in terms of color and material. Even the standard solid surface countertops come in more designs and colors.
If cost is no object, then granite is the countertop for you. You'll spend a lot for this, but you'll get what you pay for. It holds up well to heat, comes in a range of colors that is limited but stunning, and practically defines elegance for a kitchen. On the down side, granite countertops will require more maintenance than most, including periodic sealing. And if it cracks or stains, which may not be likely but is possible, you're going to be inconsolable.
Engineered stone may be the answer to some of those problems while still providing elegance. It's also expensive, but it's easy to care for and doesn't stain easily.
A tile countertop is a less expensive option that's quite attractive. It's easy to clean and maintain, though you may find the grout dulling over time, even if you seal it. Tile countertops can take the heat of pans directly on the surface, which is nice.
Wood or butcher block countertops look fabulous and are easy to clean, but a carelessly place pot can burn them and they can be damaged by water or stains over time. Laminates like formica are a low cost attractive option. They're cheap and easy to maintain, but they can chip over time in a way that's impossible to repair. Stainless steel countertops are noisy but durable and handsome.