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Measure the height from floor to ceiling and depth from the wall to the edge of the ductwork (or other obtrusive item). Cut two 2x4s to length.
Cut two 2x4s to the length of the floor to ceiling minus 3 inches. Each horizontal 2x4 will account for 1 1/2 inches of the total height.
Using the screw gun and screws, create a box out of the four newly cut 2x4s. Make sure the horizontal pieces are on the top and bottom of the box.
If the duct is not uniform in depth from the wall (if a footer has forced the bottom of your air duct out 1 1/2 feet from the wall), create a second, smaller, box.
Again, measure the height and depth of the additional obstruction. Create a square frame from 2x4s according to these measurements. Screw or nail it into place against the existing frame.
If your ceiling joists are exposed, screw a scrap piece of 2x4 to the side of the joist to act as a brace for your frame (Image 1). Erect your frame and hammer it into place, using a level as you go to make sure the frame stays square (Image 2). The snug fit will hold it in place.
You can use the frame as a jumping off point for another project. Create another frame for the other side of the ductwork and drywall over it to create a knee-high pedestal for displaying decorative accents, or extend the frame to the edge of the wall to use as a base for a built-in.