So many times, I’ll look at a newly remodeled lower level, a new recreation room or media room, and there will be these weird drywall boxes or uneven “soffits” that are obviously hiding a heating duct or plumbing pipe containing socket weld pipe fittings. Although many contractors and “do it yourselfers” have been so creative as to wrap rope around a support beam or “box it in” the discerning eye can easily ascertain what “lurks” underneath… Sorry, that’s just poor design! When designing an area laden with mechanicals and structural components, consider the possibilities. Duct work usually runs just below the floor joists and many times tight against a support beam. In these cases, I try to mirror the drop that will be necessary to hide these items around the entire perimeter of the ceiling, thus creating the illusion of a tray type ceiling. Then I might place a crown or similar molding on the inside perimeter  about two inches down from the ceiling and hide a rope light behind that molding. Now I have an up-lighted tray ceiling instead of a heat duct with dry wall over it. Another trick I use is to create a series of archways between those support poles. This creates a soft separation and the posts disappear in the wall between the arches. If you must “box” around a pole another sharp idea is to wrap a countertop around it (if space allows), this can create a neat “pub” or bistro” table, then with a couple of stools…wah lah. ( I think that’s French for “awesome)
Sump crocks present another challenge. Not only are they large but you must create access. Depending on the location, build a wood column around the crock with a removable side or front and then copy the same column about six to eight feet away on the same wall to create a nice niche for a flat screen tv. These columns may be used to house speakers or shallow shelves. This technique makes a nice media wall and no ones the wiser.
Many times there’s that one darn duct or lone mechanical that seems to be in the worst place and can’t be moved. Creating a boxed area larger than necessary and symmetrical to the rooms ceiling is a technique I’ve had great success with. Although this will lower the ceiling height, it doesn’t look like you’re hiding anything. Adding a crown or similar molding around the outside perimeter and a few recessed can lights, placed symmetrically in the bottom and now you have a nice design element.
In one project, I designed a book shelf that doubled as an access to under stair way storage area. The shelf was on wheels and push pins held it in place.
Working to remodel a basement especially in an older home can present lots of challenges. Spending a little time and thought on the design can make a good project, great. If you really can’t make sense of the whole design thing, hire a professional to create a plan. Even if you’re going to tackle the project yourself, there are plenty of us out here you can hire for just that aspect of the project. Lastly, take pictures before, during and after so you can show everyone your good work!