To harvest rain from your roof for the garden, first you have to catch it. This requires gutters. Gutters are by no means universal appurtenances. Some home styles, such as Craftsman, Spanish and Colonial lend themselves so happily to gutters that they usually come with them. The rolled metal amounts to jewelry around the eaves.
However, put the same gutters on a modern home and you have a problem. The handsomeness of the structure is often defined by the lines of the roof and eaves. Gutters look dumpy; downspouts amount to vandalism.
The upshot? To those of us who live in midcentury homes and want to practice water conservation, the question of whether or not to put up gutters can feel like a choice between looking good or being good.
The realization that a modern house could indeed be artfully guttered came accidentally, during an October visit to a 1952 Smith and Williams home in the San Rafael Hills. The place was mobbed during an estate sale, and I did not get the lamp that I had come for, but walking out I noticed a rain chain hanging from a portico. Above, a flat fascia had been fitted with custom gutters that were so discreet you had to stare hard to determine that they were even there.