"Reaching the right client, making that client happy is happiness for me," says Tai.
Tai's designs are often ahead the market, and they are frequently copied by other furniture companies (including several with household names). She can't stop the copying, but she's satisfied that her custom-made pieces are more beautiful executed and hold up better over time.
Tai, a politicial science graduate from the University of Taiwan, has loved art and furniture from her childhood. Her father was an artist, painter and architect; she grew up being the one friends turned to for advice on how to create their own best looks, made the poster art for school clubs, and was accomplished in calligraphy. Tai came to California in 1977. She and her husband, Jeffrey, together ran their business, Teak House, an Asian furnishing store, where she first learned of Asian home furnishings. When he died in a car accident in 1980, leaving her with two infant sons, she took over the business.
"Many times," Tai says,"when I had to deliver furniture, the babies came along." Fortunately, both sons, Shaun and Wilson, became talented artists or designers in their own right, as well as developing their own passions and identity. The younger, Shaun, is best known as founder of the Oakland Digital Arts Center and Inspire Oakland, while big brother, Wilson, is a real estate broker and web developer.
In 1981, Jane turned Teak House into Rosewood House. This meant a shift from selling things that were more commercial, in a market that was dominated by stereotype of what designers thought Americans were looking for (with lots of folding screens) to custom -designed, handcrafted work. The shift took a lot of guts, because the risk was higher.
In the earlier days, Tai says, "if Asian furniture looked too authentic, it was to hard to sell. Now, everyone wants change. Color is very important, but real Asian art is not about color. It is about the detail of the wood."
Tai and her customers appreciate that craftsmanship takes time, which initially costs more than mass-produced furniture. But it lasts, and over the long run costs less. And against logic, finely crafted products from Rosewood House cost less than mass-produced knock-offs.
One of the things Tai most enjoys doing is helping customers appreciate the beautiful imperfections of wood. "You can go online to see a picture of furniture or art," she says, "but to appreciate a piece, you need to see and touch it in person. I particularly enjoy the fact that artists love our store."