Rain chains, or kusari-doi in Japanese, represent design's holiest of grails — a utility both functional and beautiful.
Historically found hanging on temples and homes throughout Japan, rain chains channel water down from rooftop gutters and away from the building's foundation below.
"It's an artistic replacement for the boring downspout," says Garm Beall, a rain-chain designer at Chatsworth-based RainChains.com.
There are two styles of kusari-doi: classic chain motifs, and funnel-shaped cups or similar forms, which is where creativity flourishes. Think: open-mouthed fish, watering cans, stylized buckets, parasols and bell-shaped flowers, all designed to catch falling water and direct its flow.
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Cup-shaped models splash less than chain-link designs, making them popular near doors and walkways where a "no-splash zone" matters. Mona Verma, president of Chino-based Monarch Rain Chains, says cup sizes range from small to extra-large depending upon expected rainfall.
The more it rains, the bigger the cups, she says.
Made from rust-resistant copper, stainless steel, aluminum, bronze and brass, most chains are sold in standard lengths or in some cases, by the foot.
"The best thing is to measure from the bottom of the gutter, down," says Beall. "I think they look really nice when they don't touch the ground — ending maybe six inches to a foot above, but that's really a personal opinion."
What sits beneath the kusari-doi is also personal — and you'll find everything from rain barrels, stylized basins, and landscaping to pea gravel, moss, or river rock. "People do a lot of different things at the bottom," says Beall, "it's really about the look you want for your house."
Long Beach homeowner Kathy Moses says her rain chains work great. "They make a nice sound, like a pitter-patter," says Moses, who uses the captured water for gardening. "And they're very pretty when it's raining."