First, as someone who has IKEA furniture in his house, I don't think of it as cheap. A lot of furniture has become horribly overpriced, and there is a lot of furniture that is overwrought.
Second, design today tends to be very clean, although not as minimalist as a Mies van der Rohe skyscraper. I noticed at a Panera, the signage is being replaced, and the new signage uses lettering in a simpler font. In watching CNBC today about the proxy battle at Proctor & Gamble, the logo with the crescent moon and thirteen stars has been replaced with a logo that is simply "P&G".
Third, light or blonde wood seems to be the "in" thing right now. When I look at furniture catalogs, the number of pieces in dark shades, such as dark cherry or mahogany, are far fewer than ten or twenty years ago. So, AA having light colored wood on everything from podiums at gates to tray tables on the J seats of 767s should not be one bit surprising.
Frankly, the materials that mimic chrome or stainless steel for ticketing, gate areas, and such are straight out of the 1990s. And if you think that branding looks cheap, think how worn, beaten-down, and threadbare things looked, say around 2010 as AA was slipping towards bankruptcy. Terminal 3 at ORD was beginning to look as bad as Terminal 2, which frankly hadn't been touched since the 1970s.
Even if you hate the livery, you have to admit that it sticks out like a sore thumb, just as Southwest's old and new liveries do. I was sitting at a high school soccer game last week which was taking place west of ORD. I was watching plane after plane depart, including some of the European departures. The Eurowhite aircraft passed over in droves, including UA, Virgin America, DL, BA, and LH. What stood out were AA, EI (who can miss a kelly green plane), and NK in taxi-cab yellow.
Now, are the current livery and logo going to stick around as long as the last bare-metel livery and the scissor Eagle? I doubt it. If you believe the rumors, Tom Horton picked what was described as the bad option for rebranding, because he knew that Doug Parker was going to wind up running a combined AA/US. Even though the old livery and logo held up very well, when compared to other airline brands that came along in the late 60s and early 70s, the brand was becoming dated.