Our History

Mehitabel was established in 1947 in Cebu, Philippines by Maria Montenegro de Aboitiz. Maria Montenegro was the daughter of a sugar planter from Negros, Philippines.  At the age of 19, Maria met and married Luis Aboitiz, the youngest brother of the Aboitiz clan engaged in commerce and shipping in Cebu.  After their wedding, the couple settled happily in Cebu where Luis Aboitiz was in charge of the stevedores who worked for the family shipping company.  In 1941 the Japanese invaded the Philippines, placing Maria and Luis and their four children in jeopardy. Luis Aboitiz became ill during the war, leaving Maria to shepherd her ailing husband and family through the occupation.

After the war, Major Clarence Gushurst, a U.S. Army Major stationed in Cebu, convinced Maria to start a business making rattan and buri furniture.  With little experience, Maria set up a workshop behind her home and supervised the weavers and craftsmen making the furniture.  She sold her furniture to local families who were recovering their homes and possessions after the war, and to American military and civil personnel setting up homes to help with the reconstruction of the country. Eventually her partnership with Major Gushurst ended, and Maria continued running the now established business.  The furniture attracted the attention of another American stationed in Cebu after the war, John Calhoun McGuire. John was captivated by the strength, versatility, and beauty of a vine, called “rattan”, used by the locals to make furniture.  The rattan vine, often confused with wicker, grew abundantly in the rainforests of Asia.  John noticed that rattan had unique properties.  When heated, the vine could be bent and molded into a multitude of shapes.  When cooled, the vine retained the shape and structural integrity of the original design.

John McGuire returned to the United States to marry the love of his life, Elinor Stevenson.  He and Elinor imagined a business opportunity for themselves, designing and importing Rattan furniture to the United States.  The McGuires believed that with intelligent and innovative design, the public’s perception of Rattan as outdoor furniture could be changed.  Rattan, normally relegated to the back porch, could now be elevated to the living room.  The McGuire Company was founded in 1948.

Spotting an intrepid entrepreneur in Maria Aboitiz, John McGuire suggested they develop a business relationship.  The alliance prospered.  Maria ensured that every piece was crafted using the best materials and workmanship to John and Elinor’s design specifications.  A 65 year business relationship was born, and to this day the McGuire and Aboitiz-Booth families remain fast friends, although the McGuire Company was acquired by the Kohler Company in the 1990’s.  To some degree the companies continue their strategic business alliance into the present day.

Maria retired in 1969, handing the management of the business to her daughter, Josephine Aboitiz Booth.  Josephine became a powerhouse in the furniture industry, winning numerous awards for her Company and working for the betterment and growth of the Cebu furniture industry.  In 1985, her son, Robert Louis Booth joined the company, bringing his recently acquired MBA and his youthful exhuberance to bear as the Philippine furniture industry began experiencing stiff competition from other Southeast Asian countries.  Bob expanded Mehitabel’s capabilities and fine-tuned its manufacturing.  Bob established a second factory to manufacture fine wood furniture in addition to the Company’s still healthy rattan business.  Josephine’s brother, Luis Aboitiz, Jr., had always held a position on the Company’s Board of Directors.  Eventually he became Chairman of the Board, providing guidance and mentoring to the management team, drawing from his many years of experience as President of the Aboitiz Group of Companies.  In 2011, Josephine Booth’s daughter, Maria Luisa Booth, retired from her law practice in the United States and joined the family business. As a result of this family effort, Mehitabel is known among furniture insiders as the factory of choice for fine furniture manufacturing.  Mehitabel’s present and former customer list reads like a who’s who in international furniture:  Ralph Lauren, McGuire, Baker Furniture, Henredon, Lexington, Thomasville, Drexel Heritage, Kreiss, EJ Victor, Williams Sonoma, Restoration Hardware, Port Eliot, Frontgate, Pierantonio Bonacina, Artefacto.