I did it! I caved and painted the den paneling white in the music room. This is just the progress, so don't get too excited, but it looks a thousand times better than before. The carpet has to go and the baseboard heater removed, but hardwood flooring is expensive! So it may be a few months before that happens. This color is Snowbound from Sherwin Williams. It's a great bright white if you're looking for a good color. Also please excuse the curtain length and the bendy curtain rod (I ordered the wrong size).
For those of you that know about cabinet painting, this is a bit easier. But on a difficulty scale of one to ten, I give this project a solid 7. Cabinets are easily a 10 and will ruin your life. I guess because I've done this, painting paneling seemed like cake, but for the inexperienced, it's a huge undertaking.
Here are some tips for you if you plan on doing this at home!
1. Buy the expensive paint and primer. It will save you time and money in the end. I went to Sherwin Williams and used the oil-based ProBlock primer. It is a beast to paint on. Like the worst thing you'll ever do. It is thick as molasses and looks very brushy when you paint it on, but that's not a huge deal. You absolutely have to use oil based primer. I also bought Sherwin Williams Duration paint. It's got a great consistency and when I painted the guest room walls, I used this and only needed one coat. You'll need two for paneling, but that's just life. For this project I used one gallon of primer and one gallon of satin paint. Plus I got a gallon of semi-gloss for the windows and trim.
2. Fill the cracks with wood putty, not spackle. This was a mistake I made, but it's not the end of the world. Just takes longer for a lot of it to dry.
3. Brush the grooves and edges first then roll on the paint with a roller. If you have a sprayer for paint, by all means use it! But you probably shouldn't use it for the primer... If you have experience spraying on the oil-based primer, I'd like to hear about it!
4. Wear a mask while priming. The whole time. Last time I painted cabinets, I got a horrible wheezing cough from not wearing a mask. That stuff smells so fumey! But wearing a mask helped immensely. Make sure you open some windows as well to keep the area ventilated.
5. Choose the right finish for your space. I originally thought high gloss would be amazing, but I realized after a lot of googling that this may be a bad look. So I went with a satin finish. To me, it's the perfect finish for paneling, because the surface is wood and you want it to have some sheen like you would when painting a piece of wood furniture.
Good luck painting! If you have any other tips, please leave them in the comments!