Mōno proprietor Dean Song has an eye for utility and design.

Wallets and clutch purses from Japan are artfully displayed on handmade wooden shelves against white walls. A Taiwanese stationary kit with forged scissors and hand-lettering sheets is displayed on a small mid-century modern end table. Bento boxes from Japan, colorful backpacks from Sweden, and mugs and bottle openers from the U.S. adorn other simple spaces at Mōno, a small design goods boutique in Honolulu. Hawai‘i’s modern culture is an amalgam of Eastern and Western cultures—a melting pot of food, music, art, fashion, and lifestyle—and Mōno is its manifestation. Owners Dean and Cassy Song curate high-quality, everyday necessities with design aesthetic and functionality from Japan, Sweden, Canada, and the U.S. Whether it’s stationary, office supplies, homewares, or personal accessories, Mōno is informing Honolulu’s modern and diverse lifestyle, a blending of bests. We checked in with Dean Song about his favorite little things from Mōno.



OluKai: What types of utility and inspiration do these well-designed, small things bring to people's lives?

Dean Song: Mōno is focused on small design goods to improve your home, office, or lifestyle. I feel that people associate certain objects with memories of places, people, or experiences. This could be a reason why people get attached to an item or product. One of my favorite principles from Dieter Rams is: “A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.”


When did you begin to appreciate the concept of design thinking and well-designed goods?

Growing up I remember my mom’s Marantz sound system. It was beautifully designed and it sounded amazing. I think that might have been the start for my appreciation for well-designed things. It had all the elements that I look for in good design—equal parts of form and function. Yes, it permeates beyond the items I carry at Mōno. I try to follow Dieter Rams principles, not only in the products I create or curate, but also in my lifestyle.



It feels like there’s been a shift in in urban Honolulu to embrace smart design and quality. Why do you think this is trending now and how does it blend with an island lifestyle?

I think it’s because these items are becoming more accessible to us now. Whether it be through finding inspiration on social media, the Internet, or local shops and creatives, I feel people in Hawai‘i have started to take notice and appreciate the allure of clean and modern design. In my opinion, it fits well with tropical urban living because it gives a nice balance of traditional and modern design. It’s hard for me to say what has influenced this trend, but I do hope that Mōno has made a small impact. We’ll continue to do what we do and we’ll try our best to influence this lifestyle through our products and store.


When something is handmade or hand crafted, does it elevate that item?

I feel that it does elevate an item or product. When a piece is handmade or handcrafted, it makes it that much more special. It becomes something that can’t be duplicated. You probably could get close, but it will never be exact. I feel that having that one-of-a-kind piece makes a person appreciate an item or product even more.



For someone new to the world of well-designed, small things, what are your five must-have picks?

I would pick these 5 items: MD Notebooks from Midori, Horizon Pens from OHTO, Hasami Porcelain Mug and Wood Lid/Coaster, Round Analog Clock from Braun, and the Pencil/Storage Case from Yoshida Porter.



Dean's choice of Nalukai:

Nalukai Boot