British builder launches flock of mini-condos in California

Small can be beautiful. The British are proving it by introducing ''midget condominiums'' to California home buyers.

Sir Lawrie Barratt, one of England's biggest builders, decided that high-priced California, where land and building costs have soared in recent years, was the right place to launch an initial batch of 32 experimental mini-condos at what he considers an affordable price. The two sizes range in price from $53,000 to $58,000, and are patterned after his tiny condos that have recently been so successful in Britain.

The smaller California version, called a studio solo, offers 432 square feet. It comes furnished and has an alcove sleeping arrangement. The larger, a studio duo, offers 496 square feet. It has a separate bedroom, and furnishings are optional.

Sir Lawrie considers the condos a ''revolutionary concept'' because they offer home ownership for payments, in the first year, as little as $120 a week, plus $60-a-month association fees.

Conventional building techniques were used, but interior space was planned to the fraction of an inch. The use of mini-size appliances and carefully planned built-ins and properly scaled furnishings make small space look like more.

Chief architect William Hedley sees the units as ''starter'' housing aimed chiefly at young couples and singles. ''This mini housing gives them an opportunity to get into the housing market at a price they can afford. Most of them will move on later,'' he says. But the builder believes this young segment of the real estate market will always exist.

So far, most of the market assumptions have proved right. Over 1,000 potential buyers turned up in the first few days the minis went on sale, and the ''sold out'' signs soon followed.

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