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Encore Entrepreneur: Diana Zapata

During the process of buying or making improvements to their forever homes, families don’t always consider the concept of “aging in place,” or having a home that is “user friendly” for family members as they age. Diana Zapata, a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS), has incorporated this concept into Zapata Design, the year-old interior design business she started as an Encore Entrepreneur.

A long-time freelancer in the field of graphic design, Diana, now 57, had always wanted to be an architect or designer, but “it was the math that was my big fear,” she joked. She and her husband, a home inspector, had done a few major remodeling projects on their own home, including adding 900 additional square feet to it. Another motivation for starting a business came from her parents’ experience: A series of unfortunate events left them with no clear path to retirement and heavily reliant on Diana and her family. “I thought, ‘this is really scary to me. I have to really figure out what I’m going to do in the next ten or fifteen years to ensure that I can be fairly independent in my older age.’” she said.

After her kids went off to college, Diana made the jump into interior design and began to learn more about how it can help people become more prepared to age in place. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the fastest segment of the residential remodeling industry involves modifications to allow people to stay in their homes comfortably and safely as they grow older. By incorporating aging-in-place concepts into her designs, Diana has been able to provide “solutions and designs for independent living” for her clients.

When she first got started, it took Diana about a month to find her first customer. Then, clients began to come to her through word-of-mouth and via social media. As her business grew, she had to grapple with certain challenges such developing realistic timelines for her clients, securing permits, working with the county and the city, and managing contractors. Fortunately, she found that networking with other Encore Entrepreneurs provided support when needed. When she speaks about it now, she makes it sound effortless: “It’s not as hard as you think. You have doubts, but you just keep going.”

As much as she enjoys the design process, Diana enjoys working with clients more. When she meets with potential clients, communicating her design ideas in a thoughtful way plays a big part in swaying resistant clients into considering aging-in-place design elements.  For example, if asked to remodel a bathroom, she might incorporate a lip-less shower area into a modern, gorgeous design instead of bathtub. “People don’t think they need to have any modifications [because they don’t want to consider the fact that they are aging]. That’s a cultural issue,” she explained. It may be that once people realize certain modifications can help and empower them as they age, they may feel more empowered in the long run. “There is such a thing as aging well, and it begins with planning well,” notes Diana.

In addition to Zapata Design, Diana is also a member of the board of directors of Villages NW, which strives to support people in ways that will allow them to remain at home rather than move into retirement communities.  One long-term business goal she has in mind now is to build the ultimate design for aging in place: tri-plexes for seniors to allow them to be both independent and able to assist each other as needed.


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