A one-of-a-kind design internship opportunity in honor of our one-of-a-kind founder.

An application and terms for consideration are under development. Please check back for more information; in the meantime, scroll down to read more about Michael Barbush.


burkeMICHAEL+ is developing an internship program in memory of our founder Michael Barbush, who passed in early 2018.

Michael loved design and fostered many young talents, and we can think of no better way to honor his legacy than providing opportunities for artists to make good work.

We will be sharing information about this program in the coming year; stay tuned.


Founder stories seldom make for great web content. This one is different.

The word ‘icon’ gets thrown around a lot these days. Once used to describe great works or acts of genius, ‘icon’ now references everything from celebrity hairdressers to macramé handbags. The word has become diluted.

But that is exactly what Michael Barbush was. An icon.

Michael died recently. A notice appeared in the paper, a service was held, and people said goodbye. We, his colleagues from burkeMICHAEL+, the design firm-come-furniture dealership he worked so hard to build, paid respect to a man who earned it a hundred times over.

Michael Barbush was an artist, a designer, a photographer, a counter-culturist and an unwilling businessman. He was my collaborator and mentor for nearly 30 years. He was a talented, brilliant, unconventional man who built an unconventional business. If he hired you, it was because he saw something in you he loved. Requests began with “Hey, babe—” (Before you protest, I recognize the problem with this today. Michael used it as interchangeably as “Dude—” or “You there—.”) In hindsight, I’m convinced it was because he forgot names.

Michael eschewed convention. He hand-drew floorplans well into the computer age. He left doodles as directions for his staff. And though he might disagree with you, he never said no. Instead, you might find a collection of miniature chairs on a table, lined up then falling like lemmings onto the floor. Displeasure acknowledged. Michael was fluent in metaphor.

He hated any attempt to corporatize his beloved firm. As I sought access to the playing field of more commercially successful dealerships, he flatly rejected neckties. When I would insist, he would drape one around his throat like a scarf. Subtle.

Michael did not love rules. They got in the way of ideas. No dictator himself, he also refused to be dictated to. Once, we went into a presentation and were expected to present physical samples of a work station, a chair, a desk. Rather than display actual products, Michael had carved scale replicas of the furniture out of foam block. It was as oddly received as it sounds. But we won the project.

Michael had a compulsion to alter the ordinary. This occasionally landed him in hot water. A major furniture manufacturer was not amused when he used parts of their products to build an enormous dragon. It didn’t matter; Michael answered to a higher power.

Michael never took vacations. If he left town, it was for weddings, graduations, family events. He wanted to be at work, and even as his capacity to participate diminished his love for it never did. He continued coming to the office long after I transitioned into an owner role. Being at work made him happy.

Oh- and he threw fabulous parties. Legendary. Over-the-top, with no-holds-barred executions. Everything on a grand scale. Costumes, decorations, food, drink… Massive. Astonishing. Extraordinary. Unique. Mythic. Michael.

There was quiet work, too. Pro bono design and gifts for organizations he supported. He was a tireless advocate for quality design, and he believed nonprofits, churches and institutions deserved excellence as much as any client. His legacy can be seen in beautiful rooms and buildings all over Pittsburgh.

The city has lost a creative genius, and we have lost a friend. None of us at burkeMICHAEL+ would be here without him. In recent years Michael was never far from our minds.

“Hey, babe.”

There will not be another like him. Rest in peace, Michael. We love you.



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