He’s shot covers for countless magazines and directed music videos for Madonna. Here, Rolston opens up about his inspirations and his latest project in New York—plus we get the first look at a video he produced about the making of Hollywood’s Redbury hotel.

Q: Your first hotel project, The Redbury, opened in October 2010. What inspired the design?
The first thing that popped into my head was the 1960’s psychedelic period in San Francisco. And then I thought, “Who do I know who has a home like this?” Music producer Rick Rubin. He used to live in an amazing house above Sunset Boulevard that was filled with crazy old wallpaper and broken down chandeliers. Then I looked at hippy era interior design and 1970’s Victoriana. That crazy stew of ideas turned into The Redbury.

Q: How does that compare to your recent project, New York’s Lola Hotel, for which you designed the lighting and picked the art work?
A: It was originally the Martha Washington Hotel for Women, the first to exclusively welcome women, many of them single. I wanted to honor what it meant for our culture, but not in a boring way; I wasn’t going to put up a photograph of Susan B. Anthony. I thought, “Why can’t you do that in a cheeky or sexy way?” The photograph I picked is by Melvin Sokolsky, part of a very famous series of pictures he did for Harper’s Bazaar in Paris informally called the Bubble Series. It is a fashion model encased in a Lucite bubble. I carried the female empowerment theme through in another photo called Smoke & Veil by William Klein.

Q: What were the greatest challenges of conceptualizing a hotel design for the first time?
A: The biggest difference is the intimacy of it. In a hotel, you’re naked in a shower or in a bathroom, or you’re eating, drinking, or relaxing. So I’m not just dealing with sight and sound, but also touch and taste.

Q: How did you incorporate those elements of touch and taste?
A: Quite a bit of visual research went into it. I visited six different hotel brands in Las Vegas. When I checked into the Aria, the lobby scent was delish. There was a scent of tea, wild honey, lemongrass, and Asian vanilla. The same scent was incorporated into room amenities. So at The Redbury, I put scent diffusers in the lobby and the restrooms, but not in the restaurants or bars. It’s more dash than cash. The hotel is like a set.